The Lottery and Its Critics


The Lottery opens with the familiar backdrop and setup of an average, everyday group of people gathered in a town square for an event. It is not until Tessie Hutchinson begins frantically shrieking that the audience is given a hint of the horror and tragedy that lies at the heart of the story.

Lotteries are a popular way for states to raise money. They are easy to organize, widely popular with the general public, and generate substantial amounts of money in prizes for players. They have also been used to fund a wide range of projects, from building the British Museum to providing cannons for defense of Philadelphia during the American Revolution.

Despite the enormous popularity of lotteries, critics have raised many concerns about them. Two of the most prominent are moral and economic. Morally, lottery proceeds are viewed as a form of “regressive taxation” because they disproportionately burden those who are poorer than the rest of society. They are also criticized for preying on the illusory hopes of poor and working class citizens, who are more likely to play the lottery.

The other main concern is that lotteries are a form of addictive gambling. While the odds of winning are very slim, compulsive lottery playing can still ruin lives and even lead to criminal activity. Some states have run hotlines for lottery addiction, and there is a growing body of research on this issue. But despite all the hand-wringing, few states have established any kind of comprehensive gambling policy.

Historically, the decision to adopt a lottery has been made piecemeal by individual legislators and departments, with no general overview. As a result, lotteries have evolved with little or no consideration for the overall social welfare. This dynamic may be particularly pronounced in states with larger social safety nets, where lottery revenue has become a significant portion of state budgets.

In addition, state officials have been quick to take advantage of the clout that comes with lottery revenues. This has spawned a series of special interests that are dependent on the Lottery: convenience store operators (who benefit from increased lottery sales); suppliers of lottery machines and supplies (heavy contributions by these companies to state political campaigns are regularly reported); teachers in states where Lottery funds are earmarked for education; and, of course, state legislators.