The History of Lottery


Lottery is a popular form of gambling that has become legalized and regulated by many governments. It involves drawing numbers at random for a prize. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse it and organize state or national lotteries.

This story takes place in a small, unnamed village on June 27, the day of the lottery. The villagers are in an excited, nervous mood—some quoting Old Man Warner’s version of a popular proverb: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”

In the 15th century, lotteries were common in the Low Countries, where town records show that people used them to raise money for public works like walls and fortifications, as well as to help the poor. The ancient Chinese also used the casting of lots to distribute property, slaves, and other goods; for example, in a popular dinner entertainment during the Saturnalia, lotteries were drawn to give away gifts, including pieces of wood with symbols on them that guests carried home.

Some people support the idea of replacing taxes with state-run lotteries, arguing that because people are going to gamble anyway, it makes sense for the government to take advantage of their interest in winning and pocket the proceeds. This argument isn’t without its problems, but it has given states an easy way to finance services without enraging the very people they are supposed to serve.

Lotteries became more common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as state governments looked for ways to expand their social safety nets without raising taxes anew or upsetting resentful anti-tax voters. Cohen points out that when lotteries were promoted, their defenders ignored ethical concerns about gambling and claimed that since the states would be raking in revenue, they could afford to cut taxes for everyone else.