A lottery is an arrangement in which tokens or tickets are sold and a prize, usually money, is allocated to the winners by chance through a random selection process. Modern lotteries are primarily gambling games, although some non-gambling types exist, such as those used to select housing units in subsidized projects and kindergarten placements. Some states also have a financial lottery, where participants pay for a ticket and win prizes if their numbers match those randomly selected by machines.

In The Lottery, Shirley Jackson gives us a vivid picture of small-town America as its citizens gather in June for their annual lottery ritual. It’s a time of nervous anticipation; the town’s old man quotes an old proverb: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”

Unlike most forms of gambling, lottery winnings are not simply tossed into the air and handed over to the lucky winner; instead, they are largely invested in annuities that provide a single payment upon winning and 29 annual payments that increase by 5% over three decades. If the winner dies before receiving all the annual payments, the remainder will become part of their estate.

There is a regressive aspect to this arrangement: People who play the lottery are disproportionately lower-income, less educated, and nonwhite. Moreover, they tend to buy more tickets than people who do not play the lottery. But, the fact remains that people like to gamble, and the lottery offers them a very large, and implausible, opportunity to do so.