The Dark Side of Lottery Playing

In the small New England town depicted in Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery,” the villagers are gathered for an annual tradition on June 26, 1948. Children pile stones on Tessie, a woman who has been marked for death. The townspeople chant an old proverb: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”

Lotteries have long been a popular source of income and are often organized so that a percentage of the proceeds go to charity. But there is a darker side to lottery playing, and it has nothing to do with winning.

For one thing, the odds of winning a lottery are very low, and even the rare occasion when a person does win is not a free ride to instant wealth. It is important to remember that the winner of a lottery must pay taxes, and most people will go bankrupt within a few years of winning. In addition, the money won by a lottery is not as’sinful’ as gambling or alcohol, so it is easier for state governments to justify using it as a way to raise revenue than are tobacco and other vice taxes.

In the post-World War II era, with states facing budget crises and an increasingly anti-tax electorate, many politicians began advocating state-run lotteries as a way to expand government services without increasing taxes. This logic ignored the fact that lotteries were a form of hidden tax, and it also ignored the ethical objections to gambling rooted in centuries of Biblical allusions and Roman history.