What is the Lottery?

The Lottery is a short story by Shirley Jackson that tells of an old tradition in a small rural town in Vermont where the people hold a lottery. Jackson shows how the blind following of outdated traditions can lead to terrible injustices. The story also reveals the way that people are more willing to ignore violence when it is directed against someone else.

The underlying economics of the lottery is that individuals purchase tickets with numbers on them that they believe to be winners in a drawing. If the entertainment value or other non-monetary benefits of winning are high enough for a particular individual, the disutility of a monetary loss is outweighed and it is a rational decision to play.

A central element of most modern lotteries is a mechanism for recording the identities and amounts staked by bettors. This may be as simple as a paper receipt with the bettor’s name and ticket number that is deposited at the lottery for shuffling and selection in the prize drawing. More advanced systems typically involve a computer system for tracking purchases and sending digitized tickets and stakes to the lottery organization.

State lotteries are a major source of revenue for public services such as education. They have generally won broad public approval and support, and a strong argument can be made that their proceeds benefit an important public good. However, studies have shown that the popularity of the lottery is independent of a state’s actual fiscal circumstances. In addition, a steady level of advertising is required to maintain and even increase revenues.