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What is the Lottery?

The word lottery is derived from Middle Dutch loterie, and may be a calque on the French word “loterie” “action of drawing lots.” Making decisions and determining fates by casting lots has a long history in human culture. Lotteries are public arrangements in which people bet money to win a prize. These are a form of gambling, and are often illegal.

Many people play the lottery for financial gain, and the prizes are usually modest. The state may have a legalized monopoly on the operation, and it will typically start with a small number of relatively simple games. However, the pressure to increase revenues can cause the state to expand the game in size and complexity.

People who play the lottery have a clear understanding of the odds of winning. Moreover, they often buy tickets that have the same chance of being drawn as any other ticket in the draw. However, they sometimes develop quote-unquote systems of buying tickets only at certain stores or at certain times of day, and of picking specific numbers. They also tend to have irrational beliefs about their lucky numbers.

The story is about the lottery in a rural village, and is set in the 1940s. There is banter among the villagers, and an elderly man who is something like the town patriarch quotes a traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn be heavy soon.” Clearly the old man does not approve of this lottery. The story thus presents a morality tale about the iniquity of ordinary people, and their weakness for hope.