What is the Lottery?


The lottery is a process whereby numbers or symbols are drawn randomly for the award of prizes. The process may also be used to fill a vacancy in a group of equally qualified applicants, or to determine the winner of a sporting event or other competition. In the past, lotteries were common in the Roman Empire (Nero was a fan) and in the Bible, where the casting of lots was used to select everything from kings to who gets Jesus’ garments after the Crucifixion. More recently, they have been employed as a means of raising money for public projects, such as roads or bridges.

A person must purchase a ticket to participate in the lottery. Tickets can be purchased online or at physical premises. After the ticket is purchased, the numbers or symbols are thoroughly mixed by some mechanical means (such as shaking or tossing) before they are extracted and drawn. A percentage of the ticket sales is deducted for costs and profit, and a portion of the remaining tickets is awarded as prizes.

Many people view purchasing a lottery ticket as a low-risk investment. After all, where else can you “invest” a dollar or two for the chance to win hundreds of millions of dollars? But it is important to remember that the lottery is a gambling operation, and that the odds of winning are very low. In addition, lottery players as a group contribute billions to government receipts that could be better spent on things like retirement or college tuition.

The history of the lottery is a long and complicated one. It began in the 15th century, when various towns in the Low Countries held public lotteries to raise money for town fortifications and poor relief. The lottery became even more popular in colonial America, despite strong Protestant proscriptions against gambling. It helped finance roads, churches, colleges, and canals. It was especially useful in funding the colonial wars against France and Canada.

Lottery advocates have argued that, since people are going to gamble anyway, the state might as well take some of the profits. This argument has its limits–by its logic, governments should sell heroin–but it has given moral cover to people who otherwise might not have supported legalizing gambling.

In a small-town American village, the people are preparing for their annual lottery. They have gathered in the central square. The men are assembling in their work clothes. The children are playing and climbing on top of each other’s shoulders. They have heard Old Man Warner recite an old proverb: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”

When the draw takes place, a girl is named. Her name is Tessie Hutchinson, an allusion to Anne Hutchinson, the religious dissenter who was banished from Massachusetts in 1638 for her Antinomian beliefs. In the short story, Jackson suggests that the women of this village are just as rebellious. And if the lottery is any indication, this village will soon be in uproar.