The Lottery and the Lotteryscapegoat

The lottery is a popular form of gambling where numbers are drawn at random to determine a winner. It is an ancient practice – the Bible instructs Moses to divide land by lot, and Roman emperors used the lottery as a centerpiece of dinner entertainment to give away slaves and property. In the US, state lotteries have grown rapidly in recent years – they now account for an estimated 10 percent of all state gaming revenues. Despite this rapid growth, critics argue that the lottery is harmful to poor people, promotes addictive gambling behavior and other abuses, and diverts state resources from more urgent needs.

Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery depicts a bucolic small-town gathering for the annual lottery, where locals eagerly purchase tickets in anticipation of a grand prize that may be life-changing. The first lines establish the event as a tradition, and Old Man Warner emphasizes its importance by recalling an old saying: “Lottery in June, corn will be heavy soon.”

Children newly on summer break assemble on the town square, while adult men, then women, begin to gather in the stereotypically idyllic setting. They exhibit the normalcy of small-town life as they warmly socialize, gossiping and discussing work.

It is the mute Tessie who stands out, however, as the story takes an unexpected turn. She is the one whose number is drawn, but she refuses to accept her fate. She accuses the organizers of being unfair, and she is ultimately stoned to death. The story draws our attention to the role that scapegoats play within societies organized around a shared tradition, as well as the way in which these individuals are persecuted by other members of the community to mark their limits.

Tessie’s resistance to the lottery is a reminder that traditions should not be taken for granted. They need to be evaluated to make sure that they are serving the common good and addressing legitimate needs. Those who are able to do so will be in a better position to avoid becoming the next lottery scapegoat.

State lotteries essentially operate as a business, seeking to maximize revenue and minimizing costs. In order to do this, they must constantly introduce new games and increase their prize amounts in an attempt to attract more players and maintain interest. In addition, research has shown that state lotteries primarily draw participants from middle- and upper-income neighborhoods. These groups participate at higher levels than their percentage of the overall population, while low-income residents play at a much lower rate.

The resulting disparity in participation is a serious concern that deserves greater scrutiny. Critics point out that state lotteries are in a fundamental conflict between their desire to expand their revenues and their obligation to protect public welfare. They also contend that lotteries promote addictive gambling behavior and are a major regressive tax on the poor, and that they divert resources from more pressing state priorities. While these concerns are valid, they should not be used as a justification to continue state lotteries.