The Popularity of the Lottery
a gambling game in which tickets are sold for a prize determined by chance. The drawing of winners and the distribution of property, as in ancient Israel, by lot is traceable to countless biblical references and to the customs of many societies for giving away slaves or goods at Saturnalian feasts and other social occasions. Lotteries were introduced into the European world in the sixteenth century as a means of raising money for public projects. The lottery’s popularity grew in the United States in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, when the nation’s obsession with unimaginable wealth—including multimillion-dollar jackpots—coincided with a decline in financial security for working Americans. Inequality in income rose, job security and pensions were eroded, health-care costs increased, and the long-held national promise that education and hard work would provide a good standard of living ceased to be true for most families.
As a result, the number of people playing the lottery has soared. It is estimated that the annual spending on lottery tickets in the United States now totals billions of dollars. Although the odds of winning are quite low, many Americans still believe that they can improve their lives by taking part in the lottery.
The plot of Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” centers around a small American village where traditions and customs dominate the daily life of its residents. The story reveals humankind’s hypocrisy and evil nature. The events depicted in the story show how a group of rich men conspire to set up a lottery in their village to gain advantage over their fellow villagers. The story concludes with a final act that shows the hypocrisy of the wealthy people who took part in the lottery and how they treated their fellow villagers.
Lotteries are government-sponsored, state-run games of chance in which numbers or symbols are drawn to win a prize. The idea is that the more people play, the higher the jackpots will be and the more likely it will be that someone will become a winner. In America, the lottery is popular and is played by over 100 million people. The lottery is one of the few games in which the odds of winning are fairly close to 50-50.
Cohen argues that the lottery’s popularity soared in the nineteen-seventies and nineties, as the country’s nascent middle class lost its grip on a secure economic future. In the early eighties, a tax revolt began to grow. California passed Proposition 13, cutting property taxes by sixty per cent; other states followed suit, and the flow of federal dollars into state coffers began to decline.
In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, states began to introduce their own lottery systems, which typically begin with a monopoly on lottery operations; establish a state agency or public corporation to run it; start out with a modest number of relatively simple games; and then, under pressure for additional revenues, progressively expand its size and complexity. By the end of the eighties, almost all states had a lottery, and many were increasing their participation rates even as the odds of winning decreased.