A lottery is an arrangement by which a prize is allocated through a process that depends wholly on chance. It can be used in many ways: filling a vacancy in a sports team among equally competitive players, placing students into schools or universities, allocating placements in a company, and so on.
The odds are long for winning the lottery, and yet people continue to play it. Some do it for the money, but others, like those featured in the documentary, spend $50 or $100 a week, because they believe that a lottery ticket is their only chance to break out of their circumstances and start over. The movie challenges our assumptions about these people and their irrational gambling behavior, but it also points to the real problem with lotteries: They lure in vulnerable people by offering them the hope of instant riches that may never come.
Lottery is a very old form of gambling that dates back centuries, from biblical instructions for Moses to divide land, to Roman emperors giving away slaves and property, and to British colonists introducing it in the United States. The American reaction was mixed, with ten states banning it between 1844 and 1859. In colonial America, lotteries played an important role in financing public projects, including roads, libraries, churches, canals, and bridges. They also provided a major source of income for local militias. Today, lotteries remain popular in the United States, where they help fund everything from children’s sports programs to state parks.