The Dangers of Playing the Lottery
A lottery is a system of awarding prizes to participants through the drawing of numbers or symbols. Several states run lotteries to raise money for public services or private enterprises, and some people also play for personal gain. In the United States, the lottery generates billions of dollars each year. Despite the fact that the odds of winning are low, many people continue to purchase tickets. A recent Gallup poll found that half of Americans have purchased a ticket in the past 12 months. This may seem harmless enough, but critics argue that lotteries prey on the economically disadvantaged, especially those who should be reducing their spending. This is a good reason to avoid playing the lottery and instead save your money for something more meaningful.
The history of the lottery goes back centuries. It was first used to settle disputes in the fourteenth century, and later became an important part of European colonial settlement. In America, it spread with the introduction of English settlement and despite Protestant prohibitions against gambling. The lottery also helped fund the nation’s first churches and universities. Many of the most prestigious colleges in the world owe their existence to the sale of lottery tickets, including Harvard and Yale.
In the early twentieth century, however, a lotteries took on a new importance. Lottery money was seen as a way for states to provide a variety of social safety nets without burdening working class families with onerous taxes. This arrangement lasted until the nineteen-seventies, when a tax revolt began to sweep the country. The populist anger was directed not at the wealthy and powerful, who were still paying the bulk of taxes but at state governments that grew out of control during the Vietnam War.
People have a natural urge to gamble, and lotteries are designed to appeal to this instinct. In addition to the obvious money-grabbing, lotteries have another sinister side: they dangle the hope of instant riches, which is particularly dangerous in an age of inequality and limited social mobility. In other words, the lottery can become a vicious circle: the longer the jackpots grow, the more tickets are sold. The more tickets are sold, the higher the jackpots can grow, and the more likely people are to feel that they have a chance of winning.
Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is a perfect example of this sinister underbelly. Set in a small village, the story depicts the evil nature of humans. The characters in the story behave ruthlessly and without any sense of remorse. They spit on each other, lie to one another, and treat others with complete contempt.