The lottery is a form of gambling in which people pay money to win prizes determined by chance. Throughout history, governments have used lotteries to fund everything from public buildings to slavery reparations to the war effort. In the modern era, state lotteries have developed broad popular support. In the states that operate them, more than 60% of adults report playing at least once a year. In addition, lotteries have cultivated extensive and specific constituencies, including convenience store operators (who are favored vendors), lottery suppliers (heavy contributions to state political campaigns by these firms are reported); teachers (in those states where a portion of the proceeds is earmarked for education); state legislators (who quickly become accustomed to the extra revenue); and, of course, the winners themselves.
In the novel The Lottery, Old Man Warner fears that the villagers will return to primitive times if they stop holding their lottery. He is right to worry; they would kill someone at random, and that randomness — the choosing of a person from among the villagers by a piece of paper — is precisely what makes the lottery so terrifying.
Many people play the lottery, but they are not blind to its regressive nature. They are not unaware that the odds of winning a prize are long. They also know that they are spending a considerable share of their income on the tickets. Nonetheless, they continue to do so. The reason for this is that, as Cohen explains, in the nineteen-sixties, when a growing awareness of all the money to be made in gambling collided with a fiscal crisis arising from inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War, state officials realized that they could not balance their budgets by raising taxes or cutting services and were therefore forced to look for new sources of revenue.