How to Play the Lottery

The lottery is the vehicle through which state governments raise a lot of dough for schools and other public services. It’s a form of gambling, and one that has been around for centuries. It can be a useful exercise for thinking about odds and probability. Look at the numbers on a winning ticket and chart how many times each of them repeats (these are called “random” outside numbers). Then look for the ones—the digits that appear only once–and mark those spaces. The more of them you find, the better chance that the ticket will be a winner.

The narrator introduces the contestants in a town square. They are all women and they all look the same, because that’s what the villagers like to believe. Tessie Delacroix, the oldest of the women, is selected. She is the only one who has not been a member of a church. She also doesn’t have children and the villagers see this as a qualification for participating in the lottery.

The narrator says that the lottery was first organized in the Low Countries in the 15th century, but it’s an ancient game. It dates back to the Old Testament and the Babylonian Code, and was used in the Roman Empire to distribute gifts of articles of unequal value. The modern revival of the lottery began in New Hampshire in 1964, and most states have now adopted it. Most of them follow remarkably similar paths: they legislate a monopoly for themselves, establish a state agency or public corporation to run the lottery, start with a modest number of relatively simple games and, under pressure for additional revenues, gradually expand their scope and complexity.

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