The History of the Lottery

The practice of making decisions and determining fates by casting lots has a long history, including several instances in the Bible. But lottery-like arrangements for distributing material goods are relatively recent, dating from at least the 14th century. Among the first was one held in Bruges, in what is now Belgium, to raise money for municipal repairs. In the United States, the first state-sponsored lotteries were established in 1964 and 1965, inspired by New Hampshire’s successful experiment. Today, 37 states and the District of Columbia operate lotteries.

The earliest modern lotteries were private, and often served as a form of entertainment at dinner parties or other social gatherings. Tickets were distributed to guests and the winners were guaranteed some prize, usually fancy dinnerware. A few of these early lotteries were based on chance, but the term lottery now broadly refers to any competition that requires payment to enter and allocates prizes by a process that relies entirely on chance.

The short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a cautionary tale about the dangers of blind following of outdated traditions. Despite the fact that most of the villagers in the story do not remember why they hold their lottery, they continue to participate. The plot also criticizes the hypocrisy of small-town life and shows that evil can arise even in apparently peaceful places. It is the responsibility of society to protest when an injustice takes place and to challenge an outdated status quo.