The History of the Lottery

A lottery is an arrangement in which prizes are allocated by a process that relies entirely on chance. It may be used to choose winners in a game of chance, such as a raffle or a sweepstakes, or it may be used to fill vacancies in a sports team among equally competing players, placements in a school or university and so on. In some cases, it may even be used to distribute units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten positions.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, lottery games were common in many parts of Europe and England, especially in towns and cities. They helped finance a wide range of public projects, including town fortifications and charity. They also served to get around strict Protestant prohibitions against gambling, including a ban on dice and playing cards.

During the tax revolt of the late twentieth century, Cohen writes, lottery advocates tried to sell state-run gambling by dismissing ethical objections as mere “taste and smell.” Instead of arguing that lottery profits could float most of a state budget, they began to claim that they could fund a single line item—usually education but occasionally veterans’ benefits, elder care or public parks.

Jackson’s story suggests that people are often blind to their own actions, even in small, peaceful-looking villages. People should be able to stand up against outdated traditions and rituals, and should not be afraid to challenge an authority they believe is wrong.