The Hidden Costs of the Lottery

Lottery is a form of gambling in which people pay a small amount for the chance to win a large sum of money. The prize is often awarded through a process that relies wholly on chance, and it can be difficult to prevent a significant proportion of those who wish to participate in the arrangement from doing so.

In many modern countries, prizes are awarded through a computerized system that randomly selects winning numbers for each drawing. The lottery’s popularity has prompted state governments to promote it as a source of “painless” revenue—that is, a way to increase public spending without raising taxes on the general population.

But the true cost of the lottery is much higher than just the commissions and advertising fees that are paid by lottery organizers. The biggest expense is the human costs. The lottery offers the illusion of instant riches in an age of inequality and limited social mobility. Many people become addicted to the game and spend a considerable portion of their incomes on tickets.

The villagers in Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” act in ways that reveal the depth of human evilness. They squabble and gossip and exchange lies about one another, but they don’t seem to realize that they are wasting their time by engaging in a wasteful activity that is unlikely to yield a positive outcome. In fact, they might even be worse off than before if they win the lottery.