The Short Story – What is the Lottery?


Lottery is a game of chance in which a prize is awarded by drawing lots. The word “lottery” is derived from the Dutch phrase for “drawing of lots” (lotje). In modern times, lottery participants place bets by writing their name or other symbol on a slip of paper that is then deposited with the lottery organization to be shuffled and selected in a drawing.

Whether it’s winning a multi-million dollar jackpot or simply buying scratch tickets to make your chances of hitting the big one, there is something about the lottery that appeals to the human desire for instant wealth. But beyond that, what do lotteries really do for us? And what are they hiding from their viewers?

In this episode of The Short Story, we follow a small town in America on the eve of its annual lottery. Children pile stones on a woman named Tessie as she complains about the unfairness of the whole thing. Yet, a lot of people in this town seem to have little choice but to play. The lottery is how they make a living.

State-sponsored lotteries have long been popular as a way to raise money without a tax increase. But their popularity has a dark side, as Les Bernal and others have pointed out: they depend on the support of a minority of super users — those who buy large numbers of tickets — to generate a significant portion of revenue.