What is a Lottery?


a game of chance in which participants pay for the opportunity to win prizes ranging from cash to merchandise. The word lottery is derived from the Dutch noun lot meaning “fate” or “fate’s choice.” Lottery games are legal in most states and have broad public support, especially where they contribute to a variety of public purposes.

There are a number of elements necessary to constitute a lottery. The most important are payment and chance. The prize must be substantial enough to attract potential bettors. A third element is a mechanism for pooling the money placed as stakes. The organizers must deduct from this pool expenses of organizing and promoting the lottery, as well as a percentage for profits and taxes. The remainder, if there is one, goes to the winners.

Critics charge that much lottery advertising is dishonest. They allege that the odds are presented misleadingly, that jackpots are inflating, and that the value of a winning ticket is rapidly eroded by taxes and inflation. The fact that many lotteries are run as private businesses with the goal of maximizing revenues also raises ethical questions about their promotion.

The short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson illustrates some of the problems associated with lotteries. The villagers in the story are friendly and kind to each other before the lottery, but once they know who won the draw they turn against their neighbors and especially Tessie, the winner. The story points out the hypocrisy and evil-nature of humans, a theme that is reinforced throughout the text by the symbolism of the black box.