Ethical Issues Associated With State Lotteries

In the United States, state lotteries have become increasingly popular and profitable as a revenue source for public services. Unlike other sources of state revenue, such as sales taxes and income tax, lottery proceeds are “voluntary” and come from people who choose to purchase tickets for a small chance of winning a prize. Although the lottery is a form of gambling, its supporters argue that it is a “painless” way for states to increase spending without raising taxes. However, the success of lotteries has also raised a number of important ethical concerns. In this article, we will explore some of the ethical issues associated with state lotteries and consider whether there is a way for them to be reformed in ways that minimize the harm they cause.

Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, focuses on the villagers of an unnamed town who gather in the town square for their annual lottery ritual. The narrator describes the bucolic, idyllic setting and the “typical normalcy” of small-town life. The first to assemble are children recently on summer break, and then adult men. Eventually, women also begin to gather. As they do, they sort themselves into distinct nuclear families. At some point, Mr. Summers, who is the organizer and master of ceremonies of this lottery, carries out a black wooden box. The narrator remarks that the box is ancient and implies that it has been used for this lottery tradition for a very long time.

During the lottery, each family takes turns picking numbers. If the number picked is drawn, the member of that family wins a prize, such as money or merchandise. The process is repeated until the winning ticket is found. This is a common practice in the United States and other countries, and many people have purchased lottery products and won prizes such as cars, vacations, or even houses.

While making decisions and determining fates by the casting of lots has a long history—with a number of instances in the Bible, for example—the use of lotteries to distribute wealth has only recently gained popularity. In the 1700s, for example, Benjamin Franklin organized a lottery to raise funds for the defense of Philadelphia and George Washington held a private lottery to sell land and slaves.

As the story progresses, Tessie Hutchinson, a woman who moves to the town, begins to believe that she will win the lottery. When she does not, her family members turn against her. Jackson uses this story to criticize a culture that is willing to ignore injustice and to blindly follow outdated traditions.

The story also highlights the role scapegoats play in such cultures. The scapegoat in this case is a woman, which is not surprising given that this is a patriarchal culture. This shows that, even in seemingly safe and serene places, people are able to persecute those who challenge an old status quo. The story also warns readers that, when people are convinced that a practice is “normal,” they are more likely to tolerate it when it turns against them.