What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a type of gambling where people guess a quantity of numbers at random for a prize. It is a common activity and some governments outlaw it while others endorse it to the extent of organizing a state or national lottery. Lottery games also exist in other fields, such as commercial promotions where property is awarded by a drawing or a method similar to the lottery. However, to meet the strict definition of a lottery, payment must be made for a chance to win.

Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery is set in a rural American village, where tradition and morality are dominant. The villagers, led by the town elders Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves, plan the lottery to select one family from each village to win a substantial sum of money. They have a long list of families and arrange that the children from each family will each write their name on a slip of paper, fold it, and put it in a box.

The villagers’ arrangement is the result of an instinctive human desire to play the game and to believe that they have what it takes to become rich. But the odds of winning are not that great. The chances of guessing six numbers out of a hundred, for example, are low enough to entice millions of people into playing the lottery. This belief in the meritocratic notion of getting lucky enough to make it big is fueled by the media’s constant coverage of huge jackpots, and the fact that there are a few people out there who have become wealthy thanks to the lottery.