The Benefits of Raising Money Through the Lottery


In a lottery, tokens are distributed or sold, and one or more of them are selected in a random drawing for a prize. The prize can be a cash or non-cash prize, a vehicle, a vacation, or a house. Lotteries are often criticized as addictive forms of gambling, but they can also help raise money for good causes.

In the article “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson shows how powerful tradition is in this society, to such an extent that even a rational mind can’t bring people to reason. In this story, the man of the household chooses a woman from among the community members to be stoned to death with the lottery. The symbolism here is profound: the fact that it is a man who chooses the victim points to gender roles, which have become rigidly defined in this culture.

The lottery has been a popular pastime in Europe since the sixteenth century, when it was used to finance towns, wars, and public works projects. It arrived in America in 1612 with Jamestown, the first permanent British settlement in the country. The lottery was later adapted to fund state governments, colleges, and charity.

Its advocates promised that the proceeds of a lottery would fill state coffers without raising taxes, thus freeing states to maintain their social safety nets and not be punished at the polls for doing so. But as the nineteen-sixties dawned, inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War made the old arrangements crumble. States faced the choice of raising taxes or cutting services, and both were incredibly unpopular with voters.

So, the lottery became what Cohen terms a “budgetary miracle,” an opportunity for states to create income seemingly out of thin air. But, as it turns out, this revenue stream did not provide enough to meet even the most basic demands of state government. In the end, the only way to sustain a lottery was to make it so expensive that a relatively few people could win big, which would reduce the number of people who wanted to play.

The modern lottery has largely abandoned this strategy. Instead, its main message is that playing a lottery is fun. The experience of scratching a ticket is meant to reassure people that the game is harmless, and it’s certainly not as dangerous as other forms of gambling. The other major message is to highlight the large jackpots, which are intended to catch people’s attention and drive sales. Increasing the size of the prizes also gives the games a windfall of free publicity on news websites and broadcasts. Many of these promotions are arranged through merchandising deals with popular products, such as cars and sports teams. This arrangement benefits the companies in terms of product exposure and sales, but it obscures the regressivity of the lottery’s proceeds. Moreover, it may also reinforce the stereotype that winning the lottery is a matter of luck. For example, a recent New York lottery promotion advertised a BMW as the grand prize.