The Truth About the Lottery
The word lottery is used to describe many different things, but it’s typically described as an activity that involves paying a small amount for the chance of big gain. Historically, it’s been a popular way to raise money for public projects and for the poor. However, people have long argued that lotteries are a form of hidden tax.
The concept of a lottery is rooted in ancient history, and the casting of lots has been used for decisions and to determine fates since at least the Old Testament. It became a common practice in the Low Countries in the fifteenth century to raise funds for town fortifications and charity for the poor, and by the seventeenth century it had spread to England and France.
In the late nineteen-sixties, when the United States was enjoying a period of prosperity that allowed for generous social safety nets and a growing middle class, state governments began to struggle with budgetary crises. In order to balance the books, they needed to either raise taxes or cut services. Neither option was popular with voters, so the states turned to the lottery for help.
Amid the resurgence of popularity for this gambling tool, state lotteries have marketed themselves as fun and exciting. Their advertising campaigns and the design of the tickets themselves are designed to keep people coming back for more. It’s not so different from how tobacco companies and video game manufacturers keep consumers hooked.
But the truth is that the lottery, like all gambling, is a very addictive activity. The odds of winning are so slim, and the payoff so immense, that even the most jaded person can be drawn in by its seductions. And for that reason, it’s important to understand how the lottery works and how it can affect our lives.
The first step is to know that the odds of winning are always against you. In fact, the odds of winning a jackpot are the same as the probability of being killed in a car accident, or getting struck by lightning.
There is also a certain naiveté in playing the lottery, and it’s important to remember that there are real costs involved in pursuing such a risky endeavor. Purchasing a lottery ticket may seem harmless, but it’s essentially buying into a system that’s rigged in favor of the rich and powerful.
In the short story “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson describes a small town’s reaction to a lottery that Tess, one of the main characters, plays. The arrangements start the night before, when Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves draw up a set of tickets, one for each family. The tickets are blank, save for one marked with a black dot, and they’re placed in a wooden box. When the results are announced, the townspeople begin to act strangely. The reason for this behavior is revealed to the reader later in the book. However, the overall effect of the story is to highlight how the lottery is not just a game but a very dangerous addiction.