The Lottery – A Window Into the Human Condition


The lottery is a form of gambling in which tokens are sold for the chance to win a prize by drawing lots. Prizes may be money, goods or services. Historically, the drawing of lots to determine property or other rights has been a common practice in many cultures. Lottery, in its modern sense, first appeared in the United States during the nineteenth century. It was introduced by state governments that were short on revenue and needed funds for public works projects. At the time, voters were averse to raising taxes or cutting state services, so a booming lottery business offered an attractive alternative.

In the nineteen sixties, states began to run more lotteries. By the end of the decade, twenty-four states operated them (California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia).

Lottery commissions have a difficult job of persuading people to stop playing. They try to convince them that the lottery is just a fun, harmless game. They also tell people that the money they spend on tickets can be used for retirement or college tuition. Yet these claims obscure the regressivity of lottery sales. Moreover, lottery players as a group contribute billions to government receipts that they could have put toward other goals.

The lottery offers a window into the human condition. It shows how people often condone evil behavior simply because it is a part of their culture or tradition. They do so with little regard to the negative impact that this behavior has on society as a whole.