A form of gambling in which players bet on the chance that a particular combination of numbers will be drawn. It is commonly regulated by government agencies. Some states offer lotteries for state or local projects, while others hold large national and international events to raise money for general purposes.

The practice of making decisions and determining fates by drawing lots has a long history—including many instances in the Bible, and the distribution of property among the citizens of Rome. The first recorded lottery to distribute prizes in the form of cash was held during the 15th century in the Low Countries, and by 1776 the Continental Congress had established a public lottery in order to finance the American Revolutionary war. Private lotteries were also popular, and Benjamin Franklin used one to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British.

In Jackson’s story, the narrator observes that “the town is small enough to hold its own lottery in time for people to get home for noon dinner.” The event seems like just another civic activity along with square dances and the teenage club and the Halloween program, and the villagers are largely untroubled by its hidden meanings or violent consequences until Tessie Hutchinson draws the winning ticket and is stoned to death. The story is a fable about the way that mass conformity can stifle individuality, and the role of public institutions in encouraging or hindering individualism.