History and Debate About the Lottery
Lottery is a form of gambling in which people buy numbered tickets for the chance to win a prize. Generally, the prizes are money or goods. The lottery is a popular source of funds for state governments, but critics say it encourages addictive gambling behavior and imposes a heavy, regressive tax on the poor. This article explores the history and debate about lottery and outlines some of its effects on society.
The story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson takes place in a small town in America. The town’s citizens have long practiced the lottery as a way to distribute property. The story’s setting and characters illustrate many of the themes found in Jackson’s work, including hypocrisy, evil, and deceit. In the story, the lottery’s arrangements begin with a meeting of all the town’s major families. The members of each family are given a slip of paper that has a number on it. They then fold the paper and put it in a box. The winner is then announced.
In the past, public lotteries were often used as a means of raising voluntary taxes for a variety of purposes. In the American colonies, lotteries helped to fund the construction of several colleges, including Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, King’s College (now Columbia), and William and Mary. Public lotteries were also often used to distribute land and other goods.
Many states have now instituted state-owned lotteries. Some of these are large, with millions of players and billions of dollars in proceeds. Others are much smaller and less lucrative. Despite their popularity, most lotteries remain controversial. In many states, they are characterized by high tax rates, and the winners are usually subject to heavy financial burdens that can overwhelm them within a short period of time.
Some states use the profits from their lotteries to subsidize other government programs, such as education or social services. In the United States, there are approximately a dozen state-run lotteries, which generate more than $80 billion in annual revenues for the state. These proceeds are used to provide a wide range of public benefits, including education, social services, and highways.
However, critics claim that the success of a lottery system depends on public acceptance of gambling and a general sense of entitlement to wealth. They argue that the government is in a conflict of interest between its desire for revenue and its responsibility to protect its citizens from the harmful effects of gambling.
A state’s lottery policies are often established piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no overall policy guidance. As a result, public officials are often left with a complex set of policies and a dependence on revenues that they can do very little to change. As a result, state lotteries are sometimes seen as a classic example of “policy drift.” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005.) —Keith Kosenko, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at George Mason University in Washington, DC.