The Dark Side of the Lottery


The casting of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long history in human culture. Lotteries with prize money based on chance have been around since at least the fourteenth century, and were popular in the Low Countries, where they were used to build town fortifications and fund charity for the poor. They were also widely used in early America, despite Protestant bans against gambling. In fact, one of the first American colonists, Benjamin Franklin, sponsored a lottery to raise funds for cannons to fight the British.

A central argument that has propelled state lotteries is the idea that they are a painless source of revenue, in which players voluntarily spend their own money to benefit the public good. This is a particularly attractive argument in times of economic stress, when state governments might need to increase taxes or cut public programs. However, research has shown that the popularity of state lotteries is largely unrelated to the objective fiscal health of states; as soon as they are introduced, they win broad public approval, regardless of the current situation.

But there is a dark side to the lottery. The more people play, the worse the odds of winning, which can lead to a vicious cycle. The more people play, the more likely they are to be delusional about their chances of winning, and this can erode their self-confidence and sense of responsibility. This can make them more likely to take risks and gamble, leading to a bigger loss than they would otherwise have made.

In addition, the lottery can also encourage a sense of unfairness and inequality in society. It can make it seem as though everyone else has a chance of getting rich, while the majority have to struggle and work hard for what they have. This is a particularly dangerous message to send children, who may grow up thinking that the only way to achieve wealth is through chance events like winning a lottery.

The short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is an excellent example of how the lottery can encourage people to behave in unethical ways. The story takes place in a small village where the members of the community are regularly visited by lottery salesmen. The salesmen bribe the residents with free tickets to the lottery, which is then held at an undisclosed location. The participants are encouraged to drink and talk about how their lives would be different if they won the jackpot, and the salesmen themselves profit from the scheme. The events of the story illustrate the unethical nature of the lottery, and how even people who are trying to do good things can be tainted by greed and corruption.