Lottery might seem like a distinctly modern phenomenon, spawned from the culture that birthed Instagram and the Kardashians. But the truth is, the game’s roots run deep—in fact, they go back centuries. In America, the first state-run lottery began in 1964, after New Hampshire’s success prompted other states to follow suit. The modern lottery is a wildly popular and profitable industry, bringing in nearly a trillion dollars annually.
But despite the popularity of this modern form of gambling, some experts are concerned about its alleged negative effects on society. They argue that lotteries lure people into believing that they have a good chance of winning the jackpot, thus encouraging irrational behavior and false hopes. They also criticize the way lottery advertising is presented, noting that many people are misled by falsely inflated odds of winning and by the fact that most lottery prizes are paid out over time and therefore depreciate in value due to inflation and taxes.
There are, of course, some people who play the lottery because they enjoy the thrill of a potentially life-changing jackpot. But they do so with their eyes wide open, knowing the odds of winning are long—and that even if they do win, they will likely be taxed heavily and will probably find themselves broke in short order. In addition, some states have a history of exploiting their state-run lotteries by targeting poorer individuals and offering them more addictive games that can cause them to lose much more money.
In the end, lottery is a dangerous game that lures people into believing they can get rich quick without working for it, rather than teaching them that God intends us to work for what we need and to be careful not to spend beyond our means (Proverbs 23:5). It can also suck the joy out of everyday activities, making them drudgery and meaningless. And most of all, it distracts from the fact that wealth is best earned through hard work—as God’s word instructs: “The labor of thy hands shall be fattening you; and his eye shall be on the fruit of your body.”
Jackson uses the story of the villagers to illustrate how people will continue to do evil things even after the purpose behind them has been lost or forgotten. The villagers greeted each other and gossiped together while drawing their slips, and the old man recited the traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn be heavy soon.”
During the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin held a lottery to raise funds for cannons. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton both favored lotteries as a low-risk method of raising revenue. However, these early lotteries were often tangled up with the slave trade, and George Washington once managed a Virginia lottery in which the prize was human beings. By the late nineteen-thirties, state governments were running into massive deficits. They sought painless sources of revenue, and a lottery was the perfect solution. The idea that winning the lottery would result in instant riches quickly gained traction.