The History of the Lottery


The lottery, in which numbers are drawn at random for prizes, is a common and often controversial form of gambling. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse it and organize state or national lotteries. Lotteries are a fixture in American society, with people spending billions of dollars on tickets each year. They are also a source of public revenue, but just how much value they deliver to the nation’s citizens is a subject of intense debate.

The casting of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long history, including several instances in the Bible. But the use of lotteries to distribute money is more recent. The first recorded public lottery was organized by Augustus Caesar to raise money for municipal repairs in Rome. Later, the kings of England and France promoted them to improve their government finances. By the end of the 17th century, however, their popularity waned. Louis XIV’s abuse of the system, including winning the top prize and redistributing it to his courtiers, helped strengthen arguments against them.

The villagers gather in the square, and Mr. Summers arrives with a black box. He and Mr. Graves begin by assembling a list of the big families in town. They distribute a lottery ticket to each family, which is blank except for one marked with a black dot. They then fold the slips of paper and put them in the box. After a minute, Mr. Summers calls the names. Bill Hutchinson’s name is called. His wife Tessie protests that it wasn’t fair because they didn’t draw together.