What is Lottery?

Lottery is a process in which participants pay a small sum of money to enter a random drawing with the possibility of winning something larger. Many people play financial lotteries as a form of gambling, but others use the system to make decisions that are fair for everyone, such as admitting children to kindergarten at a reputable school or occupying units in a subsidized housing block. The prize money in the lottery may be cash or goods. Lottery has been around for a long time: it was used in ancient Rome (Nero was a fan) and throughout the Bible, including for choosing who kept Jesus’ garments after his Crucifixion. The system is sometimes criticized as addictive, and some people have trouble controlling their spending habits.

Lotteries also have a dark side, especially when they are run by governments and public organizations. Lotteries are often viewed as a form of hidden tax, and some people object to the way that winnings can be diverted to criminal enterprises or into the pockets of corrupt officials. In the late twentieth century, states faced a fiscal crisis and a wave of tax revolts. Cohen argues that these trends collided to create a perfect storm of opportunity for lottery advocates, who argued that since people were going to gamble anyway, the state might as well collect taxes on their winnings.

The story’s events are a tragic warning that humankind can be deceiving and evil, even in small, peaceful places. The villagers in the story do not oppose the lottery when it first appears; they greet each other and exchange bits of gossip, handling each other with “a flinch of sympathy.” But eventually the system turns against them all, revealing that human greed is universal.