The Problems With the Lottery


A lottery is a game in which people choose numbers and hope to win. The odds of winning are very low but many people participate anyway. It is a form of gambling and most states have lotteries. In the US, there are more than 50 lotteries with different games. Some are instant-win scratch-off games while others are daily numbers games. The purpose of these lotteries is to raise money for public purposes. The money raised is used for things like education, roads and parks. The money can also be used to help the poor. People like to play the lottery because they think it is a way to win big money. However, there are some problems with the lottery. For one, it is not very fair. Another problem is that it can make some people addicted to gambling.

The story of the lottery by Shirley Jackson was published in the New Yorker in 1940. It is a short story that describes how the lottery was organized in a small town in America. The main characters are Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves, two men who run the local lottery. They plan a set of tickets, one per family in town. The tickets are blank except for one marked with a black dot. The slips are folded and put in a wooden box, which the men keep in their office. Throughout the story, there is banter and gossip about other towns’ lotteries. Eventually, someone quotes an old traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn be heavy soon.”

Lottery has become a major source of state revenue in the United States. Its adoption in the immediate postwar period was motivated by voters’ desire to increase the size of state government services without raising taxes or cutting programs, and by politicians’ awareness that lottery proceeds would be a relatively painless source of revenues.

But the growth of lotteries has been uneven and there is no reason to believe that their future is assured. The first issue stems from the fact that lottery sales are highly responsive to economic fluctuations. As incomes fall and unemployment rise, so do lottery ticket sales. And, as with other commercial products, lottery purchases tend to be more heavily concentrated in neighborhoods that are disproportionately poor or minority.

Advocates of state-sponsored lotteries have responded to these concerns by arguing that, if people are going to gamble anyway, the government might as well reap some of the profits. This argument has its limits but it has given legitimacy to policies that were previously unthinkable. For example, a few years ago, some white voters supported legalizing state-run gambling in order to attract Black numbers players and help pay for school improvements in the inner cities. The result has been a frantic search for new sources of revenue, including new types of games and aggressive marketing. This trend seems likely to continue. It is not surprising that the number of states with lotteries has more than doubled since 1964.