What is a Lottery?


A lottery is an arrangement in which one or more prizes are allocated to people by a process that relies entirely on chance. Prizes are commonly money, goods, or services. Lotteries may be privately or publicly run and are usually regulated by law. Some are legal, while others are not. Most lotteries are designed to be fair and open, and are not designed to discriminate or exclude a group of people from participating.

In colonial America lotteries played a major role in raising funds for both public and private ventures, including the building of roads, libraries, churches, canals, colleges, and the foundation of Princeton and Columbia Universities. In fact, they are sometimes referred to as the “backbone of early American colonial development.” In addition, lotteries raised funds for the armed forces during the French and Indian Wars.

Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery, published in 1948, focuses on the way human nature can make horrible acts look ordinary. In this tale, members of a small town gather in the village square on June 27th to participate in a lottery. Everyone, from children to grandparents, joins in this terrible act because it has always been done that way and they think that if something is traditional it must be good. This story illustrates that blind following of traditions can be very dangerous.