The History of the Lottery


A lottery is a game in which winning is determined by chance. It is most often associated with cash prizes and can range from a 50/50 drawing at local events to multi-state games that have jackpots of several million dollars. It is a popular method of raising funds for a wide variety of purposes. Many states and cities use it to raise money for everything from repairing bridges to funding educational programs and hospitals. Despite the negative perception of gambling, lotteries are a legitimate and widely used source of capital. They have a long history and are legal in most jurisdictions.

Historically, people used to draw lots to determine the distribution of property, especially land. The practice dates back to biblical times and was later adopted by the Romans. The Old Testament instructs Moses to divide property among the Israelites by lot. The practice was also common at Saturnalian feasts, when hosts distributed pieces of wood engraved with symbols and then held a drawing for prizes. The word lotteries comes from the Dutch words for “drawing lots” and is believed to be a calque on Middle French loterie, which itself may have come from Latin loterie, meaning “action of drawing lots”.

Modern state-run lotteries are usually characterized by the sale of tickets with predetermined prize amounts. The amount of the prize is determined by subtracting expenses, such as the promoter’s profits, from the total pool of money awarded. Some states allow the prize to increase in value as ticket sales grow, while others offer fixed payouts based on the number of tickets sold.

Most state-run lotteries offer a variety of games, including instant-win scratch-off tickets and daily numbers games such as Pick 3 and Pick 4. The winners are determined by matching numbers to those randomly drawn on the ticket. The games are regulated by law, and a portion of the proceeds is typically given to charitable organizations.

The short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson focuses on the role of tradition in human life. The characters in this story live in a remote village, and traditions and customs dominate the social structure of the town. The story shows how hard it is to break free from the clutches of tradition.

In this story, the social classes are not clearly defined. However, the narrator’s comments at the end suggest that the lottery arrangement is designed to benefit the upper class. The lottery is a tool to “defuse the average villager’s deep, inarticulate dissatisfaction with his own social class by channeling it into anger directed at its victims” (Kosenko pp). Whether or not this was the author’s intention, the story illustrates how difficult it can be to change societal norms. It is important to consider the power of tradition and how it affects our lives.