Lottery – The Hidden Tax

Lotteries are games of chance that award prizes based on the number of tickets sold. They are widely used in the United States and elsewhere to raise money for a variety of public uses, including schools, hospitals, roads, and military defense. The prize pool may consist of a single large prize or a series of smaller prizes. In some lotteries, the total value of prizes is predetermined; in others, the number and value of prizes depends on the number of tickets sold. Prizes are typically paid in cash. In addition, the promoter may earn profits from the ticket sales. Until recently, many people perceived lotteries as a form of hidden tax.

The villagers of an unnamed small town prepare for their annual lottery in June. One woman, Tessie Hutchinson, questions the tradition and correctness of this rite. Jackson uses her name as an allusion to Anne Hutchinson, the American religious dissenter who was banished from Massachusetts for her Antinomian beliefs.

In the story, the lottery is a symbolic scapegoat that serves to deflect the villagers’ inarticulate dissatisfaction with their society by channeling it into anger directed at those they perceive as guilty of violating its traditions. Kosenko suggests that Tessie’s rebellion begins with her late arrival at the lottery, a faux pas that confirms her resistance to this ritualized practice and its meaning (pp).

People have an inextricable impulse to gamble; they also want to believe that they can change their lives for the better through a stroke of luck. These factors explain the popularity of lottery games and why so many people play them — even though most of them will lose. The purchase of lottery tickets, however, cannot be explained by decision models based on expected value maximization. This is because the cost of a ticket exceeds the expected value, and people who optimize their expected utility would not buy a lottery ticket.