The Dangers of Winning the Lottery


A lottery is a procedure for distributing money or prizes among members of a group by chance. It is usually conducted by means of tickets that may be purchased for a small fee and are numbered or otherwise marked to indicate the chance of winning. Modern lotteries can be state-run contests that promise a big prize to the lucky winners, or they can be any kind of contest in which people pay for chances on a random selection of winners. Whether a lottery is considered gambling or not, payment of some form of consideration—such as work or property—is always required. Other modern uses of a lottery-type procedure include military conscription and commercial promotions in which property is given away through a random procedure.

The word lottery comes from the Latin loterie, meaning “the drawing of lots.” The practice has been used since ancient times to determine the distribution of goods and land; one Old Testament text describes the Lord instructing Moses to take a census of the people of Israel and divide land by lot (Numbers 26:55-57). Roman emperors gave away property and slaves in a ritual called the apophoreta during Saturnalian feasts. Private lotteries were also common in England and the United States as a way to sell products or properties for more money than could be obtained through a regular sale. Benjamin Franklin organized a lottery to raise funds for cannons for the defense of Philadelphia, and George Washington managed Colonel Bernard Moore’s “Slave Lottery” in 1769, which advertised land and slaves in The Virginia Gazette.

Many people who have won the lottery have changed their lives drastically. They have become much wealthier, and often spend their newfound riches on self-indulgences like expensive vacations and sports cars. Some have even been known to buy their own private islands! But is this really the way to be happy? It seems that for some, winning the lottery has become more about securing their future than about living in an empathetic society.

This story by Walter Elder in the Kenyon Review is a cautionary tale about the dangers of the lottery. It reveals how many of those who win the lottery are willing to compromise their morals and ethical values just to keep what they have won. It is not surprising that many people who sleep as paupers wake up to find themselves millionaires, but it should be remembered that the lottery is just a way for a few to live a luxurious lifestyle while others suffer. This is not what an empathetic society should be about. If we want to create a happier world, we must be prepared to give up our own self-indulgences and put those of the less fortunate at the forefront of our minds.