What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a gambling game in which people pay a small amount of money for the chance to win a large prize, usually cash. In addition, lottery games may be used to raise money for public projects or to select jury members. Some governments prohibit lotteries or restrict their legality, while others endorse them and regulate them. In the United States, for example, the Constitution and several state laws authorize the government to run lotteries. Privately organized lotteries are also common, particularly as means of selling products or properties. The Continental Congress, for example, established a lottery to raise funds for the American Revolution. Lotteries became widely used in the colonies despite strong Protestant proscriptions against gambling.

Whether they realize it or not, the villagers in Jackson’s story are all participating in a lottery. They are putting themselves in the same position as the victim of the lottery; they all have an equal chance of being killed, and each is guilty of no particular sin or crime.

A lottery can be run as a way to make a process fair for everyone, especially when something is limited but in high demand. Examples include a lottery for kindergarten placements at a reputable school, or a lottery to determine the unit size in a subsidized housing block. Financial lotteries are popular, as are those that dish out cash prizes to paying participants. But the people running a lottery must know that they are sprinkling a bit of magic dust on some of life’s most difficult problems. People covet money and the things that money can buy, and hope to solve their problems with it. Ultimately, however, God forbids covetousness: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that is his.”