A lottery is a method of raising funds for public benefit by giving out prizes in a random drawing. Prizes may be money or goods. Modern lotteries are usually run by state or private organizations and have a fixed set of rules that specify how often and the size of the prizes. Some have a single large prize, while others offer a series of smaller prizes that increase in value as tickets are purchased. In addition to the prize pool, lotteries typically collect a percentage of ticket sales as revenues and profits for the organizer.

Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery is a profoundly disturbing critique of the blind following of outdated traditions. Although many of the villagers in this tale do not even know why they hold the lottery, they continue with the ritual out of a sense of obligation. Tessie Hutchinson, for example, did not speak up against the tradition until it turned against her. The Lottery also criticizes democracy by showing how easily people will turn a blind eye to violence when it is directed against them, and that the majority’s will does not necessarily make something right.

The purchase of lottery tickets cannot be accounted for in decision models based on expected utility maximization. Despite this, people buy lottery tickets anyway because they find the entertainment value and fantasy of becoming wealthy to be worthwhile. In fact, lottery players as a group contribute billions to government receipts that could be better used for other purposes, such as helping children afford college or retirement.