In a small, unnamed village in rural America, the people assemble in the center of town on June 27 for their annual lottery. It’s an ancient rite, said to ensure a plentiful harvest. Old Man Warner quotes an old proverb: “Lottery in June, corn will be heavy soon.”
A state-sponsored game of chance in which numbers are drawn for a prize. Lottery is a popular source of revenue, with thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia raking in more than $42 billion in 2002. State legislatures typically delegate the administration of the game to a lottery board or commission, which hires and trains retailers, promotes lottery games, selects winning tickets, and collects and pays high-tier prizes. Lotteries are also common in non-governmental enterprises, such as privately run charities, schools, and churches.
The earliest lotteries were sanctioned in colonial America, where they played an important role in funding private and public ventures. Thomas Jefferson held a lottery to retire his debts, and Benjamin Franklin used one to raise money to buy cannons for Philadelphia. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the games became so widespread that they were the primary source of capital for roads, canals, factories, colleges, and churches.
Lottery has a powerful allure that draws people in from many walks of life, but it is most strongly associated with low-income households, the less educated, and nonwhites. It’s often coded as a wacky, fun game, which obscures its regressive nature and misleads people into believing they are playing it for the experience rather than the money.