Analyzing the Lottery


A lottery is a popular form of gambling in which people buy tickets for a chance to win a prize. The prizes can be cash or goods. Lotteries are common in many countries and have been used to fund a variety of projects, including roads, schools and churches. In the United States, they were used to support public works such as canals and bridges as well as private projects such as Princeton and Columbia Universities. The earliest European lotteries were organized by towns trying to raise funds to fortify their defenses or aid the poor. During the 18th century, public lotteries became more widespread in the United States. Benjamin Franklin even ran a lottery to help finance cannons for Philadelphia’s defense.

There are two dominant themes that are being communicated in this story – one is about the lottery, and the other is about social class. The first theme is about how people tend to put their lives into chances. People go into the lottery with an irrational belief that there is a way for them to change their lives and be successful. This is a clear sign that people are not thinking clearly when it comes to their gambling behavior. They are also going into the lottery with a mindset of self-preservation and self aggrandizement.

These two themes are very important to consider when analyzing the lottery. Lotteries do a great job of dangling the promise of instant riches in an age of inequality and limited social mobility. They also do a good job of making it seem like a fun thing to do and obscures the regressivity of the game.

State lotteries are a classic example of public policy made piecemeal and incrementally, with little overall vision or oversight. Typically, a state legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes a publicly owned corporation to run it (as opposed to licensing a private firm in exchange for a percentage of the profits); begins operations with a small number of relatively simple games; and then tries to increase revenues by adding new games and expanding the existing ones. The result is that revenue increases dramatically early on, level off and eventually begin to decline – forcing the addition of more games to sustain or grow revenues.

This process is often exacerbated by the fact that state officials have no general gambling or lottery policy, and they therefore lack the incentives and ability to control the industry. As a result, lottery commissions spend enormous sums on marketing and advertising, which distorts the message that they are communicating.