What is the Lottery?


The lottery is a game of chance in which numbers are drawn to determine prizes. A player selects a group of numbers from a set, and wins a prize if the numbers match a second set chosen in a random drawing. Lotteries have a long history and are popular worldwide. In the United States, lotteries are regulated by state governments, and the profits are used for public projects. In the 15th century, towns in the Low Countries used lotteries to raise funds for town fortifications and for poor relief. Lotteries became more common in colonial America, where they were used to fund projects like paving streets and building wharves. They also raised money for wars and universities. Some people were skeptical of lotteries, believing they constituted a hidden tax on the public. Nevertheless, the idea gained wide acceptance, and Alexander Hamilton advocated that lotteries be kept simple so that everybody could participate (Kosenko).

In the United States all lotteries are operated by state governments, and their profits are used solely for government programs. While many people play for fun, others believe the lottery is their only hope for a better life. In both cases, the utility of a monetary gain must exceed the disutility of a monetary loss for a person to play.

A story by the New Yorker writer Joseph Kosenko illustrates this idea. It is about a middle-aged housewife named Tessie who arrives late for Lottery Day because she has breakfast dishes to wash. As the head of each family draws a slip, there is banter among the villagers about other communities having stopped holding The Lottery and an old man quotes a traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn be heavy soon.” Tessie’s rebellion against The Lottery begins with her late arrival and ends with a twist ending that confirms her disapproval of the entire enterprise.

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