The Lottery – A Symbol of Human Greed


The lottery is one of our most popular gambling games. It is also a symbol of the power of human greed, as demonstrated in Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery. The story takes place in a small rural town, and is a parable of human sin. It depicts the exploitation and manipulation of people by those who wish to control them.

Traditionally, state lotteries are run as businesses, with the goal of maximizing revenues. Because of this, their advertising focuses on persuading target groups to spend money on tickets. This strategy is laudable from an economic perspective, but it has some troubling side effects: It promotes gambling even in those who do not want to gamble; it may contribute to the formation of problem gambling and other serious social problems; and, more generally, it puts state lotteries at cross-purposes with other state functions.

Until recently, state lotteries were modeled on traditional raffles, with the public buying tickets for a drawing at some future date. But innovations in the 1970s have radically changed the industry. Now most state lotteries rely on two main messages: one, that buying a ticket is fun, and the other, that the lottery raises money for the states. While the latter message is often presented in the context of a “civic duty,” it obscures the regressive nature of lotteries. The poor play lotteries far less than their percentage of the population, and the elderly and the young play even less.