The lottery is a popular way to raise money for state governments. It involves selling tickets and selecting numbers that will win prizes, like a Snickers bar or a new car. Typically, people will buy several tickets to increase their chances of winning and, over time, will spend more and more money on them. Lotteries are not without controversy and have often been criticized for encouraging addictive gambling. Whether the tickets are sold at check-cashing venues or gas stations, they are marketed with brightly colored billboards and catchy slogans. Lotteries are not above utilizing the psychology of addiction and using marketing tactics similar to those used by tobacco companies or video game manufacturers to keep players coming back for more.
The history of lotteries dates back to ancient times. The Old Testament instructs Moses to divide land among the Israelites by lot and Roman emperors frequently used lotteries to give away slaves and property. But the modern incarnation of the lottery began in the nineteen-sixties, when a growing awareness of all the profits to be made in the gambling business collided with a crisis in state funding. With taxes soaring, inflation rising, and war costs piling up, states were casting around for ways to balance their budgets that wouldn’t anger an increasingly anti-tax electorate.
One option was to cut services, but that would be unpopular with voters. Another was to sell off public lands, and, to do that, they needed to raise money. And so they started offering the lottery.
Rich people do play the lottery, of course; one of the larger Powerball jackpots was won by three asset managers from Greenwich, Connecticut. But on the whole, they buy fewer tickets than poor people, and their purchases account for a much smaller percentage of their incomes. The poor, by contrast, buy a lot of tickets, and on average, according to consumer financial company Bankrate, they spend thirteen per cent of their incomes buying them.
Many people who play the lottery have all sorts of quote-unquote systems that are not borne out by statistical reasoning; they have lucky numbers and favorite stores and particular times of day to buy their tickets. But they also know that the odds of winning are long and that they’re going to lose a big chunk of their money in the process.
Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery, written in 1955, is a tale of human evil and greed. It’s not so much about the fact that lottery winners lose their wealth; it’s about how they do it. Jackson portrays grotesque prejudice hidden in an everyday setting, and she exposes the blindness of the human soul. The people in her story are so accustomed to their traditions and customs that they no longer see the underlying evil that has taken hold. This is a powerful story and should be read by anyone who has a curiosity about lottery addiction. In addition, it’s a reminder that the vast sums of money awarded by the lottery can often be a curse rather than a blessing.