The Lottery and Its Critics

The Lottery and Its Critics


A gambling game in which tickets are sold for a chance to win a prize. Often used to raise money for public charitable purposes.

In the fourteenth century, lotteries became common in the Low Countries as a way of raising money to build town fortifications and help the poor. These were the earliest public lotteries, and the first to make use of the printed word. By the seventeenth century, lottery games were also popular in England and in the American colonies. The American colonists took up the practice even though it violated Protestant proscriptions against gambling.

It was not until the nineteen-thirties that states started to legalize state lotteries. This shift was partly motivated by a desire to find a way to raise funds without alienating voters who were opposed to higher taxes. But it was also driven by the popularity of a new gambling alternative: sports betting. The growing reliance on odds-based betting shifted the focus of criticism of lotteries away from arguments about their general desirability and towards claims that they were unsuitable for a modern democratic society.

Until recently, state lotteries offered prizes in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but they also imposed strict rules about who could play and how much the jackpots would be. That changed, as regulators began to lift the prize caps and increase the number of numbers in a drawing, meaning that the likelihood of winning dropped dramatically. The result has been that jackpots grew to apparently newsworthy sizes, driving ticket sales and public interest.

Some critics have argued that these changes were harmful to the integrity of the game and that the public had been misled about the prizes they might expect to receive. But they have also helped to decouple the lottery from its past history as a gambling device and to make it look more like an ordinary way to fund government programs.

One major message that state lotteries promote is that they benefit the public by providing money for things like education and elder care. But these claims are rarely backed up by the figures that show how much lottery proceeds actually bring in to state coffers. Moreover, they give the false impression that a vote for the lottery is a vote in favor of these specific services and against higher taxes.

The short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson illustrates the evil nature of humankind in a small rural village where tradition and customs dominate everyday life. Jackson employs characterization methods such as the setting and actions of the characters to demonstrate the moral weakness of people. People act immorally with less regard to their negative effects on others than they do to themselves.

Throughout the story, the character of Mrs. Delacroix is portrayed as a determined lady with a quick temper. Her reaction to her death in the lottery demonstrates how a person will act when confronted with a situation that contradicts her own beliefs and values.