The Lottery and Public Purposes


The lottery is a popular and profitable source of money for states. Its success has largely rested on its ability to convince voters that state governments are not raising taxes or cutting services. This argument is especially effective when states are under pressure to find new sources of revenue. But studies have shown that the actual fiscal situation of a state has very little bearing on whether or when it adopts a lottery.

Historically, lottery revenue has been used for a wide range of public purposes. It has helped fund highways, canals, bridges, and railways in Europe, as well as universities and churches in America. The first recorded European public lotteries to award prizes in the form of money appeared in the 15th century, with towns holding them for such purposes as fortifying their defenses or aiding the poor.

Many people play the lottery simply because they enjoy gambling. This is often a form of addiction. It can also lead to a significant decline in the quality of life, as has been demonstrated by several cases of people who win big and then lose it all.

The short story “The Lottery,” written by Shirley Jackson, illustrates this phenomenon. The story is about a small village in which all the villagers participate in an annual lottery. The story focuses on Tessie Hutchinson’s rebellion against the lottery. She is a character that represents the average villager’s deep, inarticulate dissatisfaction with their lives by turning it into anger at “the victims of this grotesque prejudice” (Kosenko p. 155).