What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a gambling game in which numbers are drawn and people who have the matching numbers win prizes. It is a popular pastime in many countries and may be used to raise money for different purposes.

The history of lotteries is long and varied. In ancient times, they were often a central element of government finance, providing funds for major projects like the Great Wall of China. They also figured prominently in the slave trade. George Washington managed a Virginia-based lottery that offered human beings as prizes, and Denmark Vesey won the American lottery and later fomented a slave rebellion. But in modern times, the popularity of lotteries has waned. They have become more widely perceived as a form of predatory pricing, and they are sometimes accused of corrupting the political process.

Cohen argues that the modern lottery evolved in the nineteen-sixties, when growing awareness of all the money to be made in the gambling business met a crisis in state funding. With population growth and inflation, it became increasingly difficult for states to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services. The lottery was a way to raise needed revenue without either of these unpopular options.

In the short story The Lottery,’ Shirley Jackson illustrates how blind obedience to tradition can lead to disastrous consequences. She also shows that lottery participation is not the result of a rational calculation of expected utility. Instead, it reflects a basic desire to experience excitement and indulge in the fantasy of becoming wealthy.