The Lottery – A History of Gambling


In the classic horror film “The Lottery,” a woman is selected at random to be murdered by a village full of villagers. It is not the murder itself that is shocking, but rather the way in which a random selection is perceived by those involved to be just as justified as the choices of others. The villagers are not aware of any transgression the victim may have committed; they simply believe that the random drawing of a slip of paper is as justifiable as their own choices to buy a lottery ticket.

Lotteries are a state-sponsored form of gambling that entails purchasing tickets for the chance to win a prize, typically money. A percentage of the proceeds from a lottery are often donated to charitable causes. While defenders of the lottery argue that it is an appropriate form of gambling, critics such as Daniel Cohen argue that lottery promotion undermines the legitimacy of government and encourages compulsive behavior.

During the seventeenth century, colonial America’s lotteries played a crucial role in financing public and private ventures. They were used to finance roads, canals, churches, colleges, and even to supply a battery of guns for defense of Philadelphia and rebuild Faneuil Hall in Boston. Today, the lottery is a state-run business that relies on a combination of direct marketing and advertising to attract customers and keep them playing. The ad campaigns rely on a similar strategy as tobacco or video-game manufacturers: to keep people hooked by promoting the psychological addiction of scratching a ticket.

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