The lottery has long been a fixture in American society. In 2021, Americans spent upward of $100 billion on tickets, making it the most popular form of gambling in the country. But the gamble is not without cost. Lottery players as a group contribute billions to government receipts that could otherwise be saved for things like retirement or college tuition. The average ticket price of $1 or $2 is an attractive investment for many, but the risk-to-reward ratio is incredibly low. And if buying lottery tickets becomes a habit, the cost can be far higher than the potential rewards.
But while lotteries are regressive, they also send a number of other messages, most importantly that playing the lottery is good for you. That message is coded in the fact that lottery jackpots grow to apparently newsworthy amounts and that state budgets are dependent on them, even though those winnings make up just a small fraction of total state revenue.
But the lottery is not just about chance; it is also about power and social hierarchy. It is about the exploitation of vulnerable individuals by a dominant culture. Shirley Jackson’s story of an annual lottery in a small town is a prime example. It highlights how the traditions of a certain culture can be so powerful that rational minds are unable to bring people back to reason.