The Lottery and Its Critics


The Lottery is a popular game in which people have a chance to win a prize, often large sums of money. The games are usually run by state or federal governments. The prize money is paid out through a drawing. While the games are often seen as being harmless, they have been criticized by some as addictive and detrimental to family life. They have also been criticised for generating negative social consequences, such as the decline in quality of life of those who have won prizes.

While the practice of distributing property and other goods by lottery has an ancient history, with a number of examples in the Bible, state-sponsored lotteries are much more recent. They began in the 15th century in Burgundy and Flanders, where towns raised funds to build defenses and aid poor citizens. Lotteries subsequently became common in Europe and eventually made their way to the United States in 1612.

One of the main arguments used by states in adopting state lotteries is that it is a source of “painless” revenue: players voluntarily spend their money (as opposed to taxpayers being taxed) for the benefit of the public good. This argument has a certain appeal in an era where state governments face increasing pressures to reduce taxes and cuts to essential programs. However, studies show that the popularity of lotteries is independent of the actual financial health of state governments.

In fact, the exploitation of lottery revenues by states has resulted in a regressive effect on low-income groups. Lotteries have also been criticized for being addictive and for the fact that they make people poorer in the long run, by decreasing their ability to save, invest, and otherwise plan for the future.

The story of Tessie Hutchinson, a middle-aged housewife in a small town in the 1940s, illustrates many of the problems associated with state-sponsored lotteries. The story opens with her deciding to wash the dishes rather than attend Lottery Day festivities. After all, she does not want to risk her chances of winning the big prize. The day of the Lottery begins with the heads of families taking turns drawing a slip of paper from a box. One of the slips is marked with a black spot, and if the head of household draws that one, then they have to draw again.

There is much banter among the townfolk during the proceedings, including a little traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn will be heavy soon.” As the draw is being conducted, the elderly patriarch of the community clearly disapproves, and he quotes from it in a manner that seems to suggest he knows something about the twist at the end of the story. In the end, Tessie wins the big prize and, predictably, finds that it is not a great fortune after all but a serendipitous event brought down on her by Lady Luck. In the real world, however, most winners find that it is not all that they hoped it would be.

Categories: Gambling