The Ethical Impact of the Lottery


The lottery is a form of gambling in which a person pays to purchase a ticket and stands the chance of winning a prize. Lotteries are used in a wide variety of contexts, including for military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is randomly given away, and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters. In addition, there are also a number of public lotteries in which people pay to play for a prize such as subsidized housing units or kindergarten placements. Despite the widespread use of lotteries, their ethical impact is often underestimated.

In the past, many states’ promotion of the lottery was couched in terms of “voluntary taxes,” and state lotteries were often seen as a way to fund the building of roads, bridges, schools, colleges, and other public projects. In the 18th century, for example, the Continental Congress created a public lottery to raise money to support the Revolutionary Army. Alexander Hamilton endorsed the idea, saying that everyone “will be willing to hazard a trifling sum for the chance of considerable gain.”

Modern lotteries are usually advertised as recreational games and are not considered to be a form of gambling under strict definitions because the lottery requires payment of a consideration in exchange for a chance to win. However, even when they are not considered to be gambling in the conventional sense, they still imply that there is an element of risk and a potential for financial loss, and they often attract people who do not have a high tolerance for risk. Consequently, they may have an adverse effect on some individuals’ lives.

While it is hard to imagine that the lottery will ever be abolished, there are a number of reasons why it should be. One reason is that it undermines people’s ability to think critically about their actions. In this short story, the lottery has a negative impact on Mrs. Hutchison and her family.

In the first half of the twentieth century, lotteries became increasingly popular among politicians seeking ways to maintain their existing social safety nets without enraging an anti-tax electorate. They saw lotteries as “budgetary miracles,” Cohen writes, the chance for states to make revenue appear magically out of thin air. These states were primarily in the Northeast and Midwest, where voters were used to paying relatively low taxes for services such as higher education and public transit. Lotteries provided them with a new source of revenue that they could trumpet to their voters as the solution to their budgetary problems.