The History of Lottery


Lottery is a form of gambling in which people buy tickets for the chance to win a prize. The prize money can be cash or goods, services, land, vehicles or even houses. While some countries have banned it completely, others endorse it and regulate it. In the United States, the term lottery is usually associated with state-run games that distribute prizes to players who match certain numbers on a ticket. While the concept of lotteries is ancient, the modern game originated in Europe in the fifteenth century and quickly spread to America.

The first European lotteries took place in Burgundy and Flanders, where towns raised money for fortifications and to help the poor. By the sixteenth century, Francis I of France began allowing lottery profits to be used for public purposes. These early lotteries may have influenced the later British state-sponsored ones, and Elizabeth I chartered the first English national lottery in 1567, donating all profits to fund “reparation of the Havens and Strength of the Realm.”

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, lottery participation was widespread throughout Britain and the American colonies, despite religious opposition to gambling. It even helped finance the European settlement of the continent, though colonists did not always have a high opinion of the practice, especially when it awarded slaves as prizes. The lottery became more controversial as the twentieth century approached, with states facing budget crises caused by inflation and the cost of war. It was then that growing awareness of all the money to be made in the gambling business collided with a need for states to increase their social safety nets without raising taxes too much or cutting services.

In Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, the main characters in a small village take part in an annual ritual known as “the lottery.” It is a time of merriment and anticipation, as the villagers gather in town square and children pile up stones for their own lottery. There is banter among the adults and an old man quotes a traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn be heavy soon.”

Mr. Summers, the leader of the town’s lottery organization, and his associate Mr. Graves are making plans for this year’s event. They draw up a list of all the families in town and plan a set number of lottery slips per family. Each ticket will have one of five colors, with each color corresponding to a specific family.

The winners are to be announced at the end of the merriment. Until then, the families keep their tickets secret from each other and look forward to a new year of fun. But when the winner is announced, all of this merriment turns to despair and horror. The family that wins is stoned to death. The ending of the story is both tragic and ironic, but it reveals how human beings can lose sight of their good intentions in a society where everyone else seems to be doing well enough for them.