"Hi, everybody. This is Mickey Cantor reminding all the fans in the upper deck to check their ticket stub against the results of our population control lottery after the game tonight. Hey, good luck, everybody. We hope we see you tomorrow."Hey, you just won the lottery! Sounds pretty good, right? After all, you just got a few million dollars, and are, unless you stupidly spend it all, probably set for life. Who wouldn't want to win the lottery? Well, you wouldn't want to, if it was one of these lotteries. The Lottery of Doom is a lottery where the prize is something really bad happening to the "winner," usually death. The reason for the Lottery of Doom varies, ranging from an attempt to keep the population down, appeasing a dragon, wrathful god or Monster of the Week, select a "volunteer" for some dangerous or outright lethal task that needs to be done or just to be creepy. Sometimes the lottery players know that it's a Lottery of Doom, sometimes they don't. The lottery sometimes gets the perks of actually winning the lottery, but you aren't the able to enjoy it for very long, leading some characters to arrange some sort of inheritance thing. So next time you buy a lottery ticket, be sure to read the fine print. In a Town with a Dark Secret, expect this to overlap with A Fête Worse Than Death. Compare Drawing Straws, Russian Roulette, Doom As Test Prize, and Cold Equation.
— Mickey Cantor, Monday Night Combat.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- One of the episodes of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann featured a village that could only support fifty people, so when the population got too high they would select people by lottery and exile them. The end of the episode hints that the lottery was rigged and had always been rigged by the village elder, who chose lottery "winners" himself based on who the village could afford to lose.
- Bokurano: The kid who gets to pilot the giant robot gets selected at random. Unfortunately, the robot runs on life force and the pilot dies after the battle's over. Kinda moot point with the lottery, since all the pilots will get their turn. It's not a matter of who so much as when they will bite it. In the manga, Koyemshi says that when his Earth went through the game, there was a larger pool of pilots, and thus, any given pilot had a reasonable chance that their turn would not come up, which resulted in a fair amount of discord in the group.
- An inversion occurs in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu. When Sousuke accidentally releases a biowarfare agent in class, the students have to draw lots to find who'll get the only vaccine available. Then it seems to go from inversion to reconstruction: When Sousuke wins the lottery, the outraged classmates promptly attack him en masse.
- In Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, future Japan has rebuilt it's economy and education system around this one: every person is injected at childhood with nanomachines that have significant health benefits. However, for 1 in a 1000, the nanomachines are programmed to destroy the heart at a random time between before the age of 25... And you only get 24 hours of notice before that. The intention was to make every Japanese person live his life to the fullest knowing that every day really could be his last. Handily enough, the lottery is also rigged so that people who annoy the government are more likely to end up with the killer nanomachines...
- Played for laughs in One Piece whenever Luffy wants to venture to a ominous looking island. The crew draw straws to pick who'll go with him. Usopp, Chopper and Nami, being the weaker and less brave members, always dread this. This was particularly driven home when they first met Brook on his broken ghost ship. They drew lots for two to follow Luffy onto the ship. To her dismay, Nami was one of the "winners" (Sanji was the other), and she immediately complained, even though just minutes ago, she, Usopp, and Chopper begged Zoro to use the straws when they learned that the alternative was being left alone aboard the Thousand Sunny while everyone else went with Luffy to the ghost ship.
- In Yo-kai Watch The Grim Reaper-esque beings hold a lottery where someone dies randomly. Jibanyan's owner Amy 'won' the lottery and was almost hit by a truck, however Jibanyan shoved her out of the way.
- The 1950's Space Opera Rick Random: Space Detective. Lampshaded and averted in the episode "Kidnappers from Mars!" in which Space Pirates are caught in a space tide with the only hope of escape being the two-man space shuttle. After a pause to consider the implications, everyone starts blazing away at each other.
An escape bid — but only for two! For a tense minute, the eight people in the doomed space ship watched one another in cautious silence. There would be no lottery of luck!
- In Peter Milligan's relaunched X-Force/X-Statix, Orphan, Anarchist and U-Go Girl are trapped in a spacecraft with only a two-person escape pod. They roll dice to determine who gets to use the pod.
- This strip◊ by Quino.
- In the graphic novel version of Thrilling Adventure Hour, Banjo Bindlestiff and his fellow hobos are made "citizens for a day" of Jacksonville just in time for one of these. Banjo manages to fast talk the townsfolk into making stone soup instead; the police chief didn't like this idea until he learned that he would have been the lottery winner.
- In Cupcakes, Pinkie Pie chooses her victims by lot. Then she kills them and bakes them into the titular cupcakes.
- Ditto with Fluttershy in Pattycakes. Granted, they probably get off easier by ONLY having to pretend to be Fluttershy's baby, but given the Mind Rape she put Rainbow Dash through, and considering the foalmula...
- In Alexandra Quick, every seven years, a pureblood child is chosen from a lottery of those who are too young to have a wand to be sacrificed as part of an ancient treaty. This did not go down well, and was the major cause of the most significant uprising in the Wizarding World.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Dragonslayer. To appease a dragon, all of the virginal women in a small kingdom must take part in a twice-yearly lottery: the "winner" is chained up outside the dragon's lair as a meal. Wealthy families are able to bribe the king to leave out their daughter's names. Virginity is a requirement, but in those times, being unmarried and not virgin was terribly shameful, so...
- The Island. The people apparently participate in a lottery, the winner of which is relocated to a paradise island. Only the people are clones, the lottery's a sham, there is no island, and the winner is harvested for body parts.
- Clonus. The people apparently participate in a lottery, the winner of which is relocated to America. Only the people are clones, the lottery's a sham, they don't go to America, and the winner is harvested for body parts. If this sounds familiar, know that Clonus came first and yes, there was a lawsuit.
- Population 436 does it to keep the town's population at the exact same number. They draw names out of a box, then have a harvest festival, during which the "winner," is hung. Winning is a great honor, and both the winner and her husband are absolutely delighted about the whole thing.
- "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is about a town that has a yearly lottery. The Twist Ending is that whoever wins the lottery gets stoned to death as a sacrifice for the next harvest. Some have claimed its allegorical of the draft. Word of God says, "It's just a story."
- There's a YA book also called The Lottery by Beth Goobie where the Absurdly Powerful Student Council holds a lottery whose "winner" is ostracized by the rest of the school.
- The Andre Norton novel The Zero Stone. Gem dealer Vondar Ustle and his apprentice Murdoc Jern are in a bar on an alien planet. A group of priests from the local religion enter, set up a wheel and start it spinning. Jern knows that whoever the wheel is pointing at when it stops must be sacrificed to the local deity. The wheel ends up pointing between Ustle and Jern: Ustle is quickly killed by the fearful locals, and Jern barely escapes with his life.
- Mercedes Lackey's One Good Knight from the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series. There is a weekly lottery from the kingdom's virgins to see who will be sacrificed to a dragon that week. Subverted: the lottery is fixed — and the "winning" girls aren't actually eaten by the dragon.
- Stephen King's Storm of the Century. The parents who gets the "winning" rune stone give their son up to a wizard/demon.
- Taken Up to Eleven in The Dark Tower series. The ruined town of Lud has speaker towers that play mind-searing music at random actually a vocals-less rendition of ZZ Top's Velcro Fly , and whenever it does, its residents hold a lottery to decide who to sacrifice to the 'ghosts' that are putting forth the horrible sound. Several times a day, somebody's name comes out of the hat and is set to dancing the jig at the end of a hangman's rope.
- Battle Royale's "Program" ostensibly works this way, with classes of ninth-graders being volunteered, and one of the many volunteered classes being selected at random. All 9th grade classes are entered; even if someone in the class is the son/daughter of someone important or the teacher is against it.
- In "The Carnival", a regular fair is held well outside of town, run by Populace Control. The sixteen-year-old protagonist gets to attend through a lottery, and continues to be excited about the rides even after a worker dragging a large black garbage bag into a huge pit tells him "The odds are one in eight you’ll make it kid". This lasts right up to the point where he gets flung off the "Whirl-Away" and into the ground at over two hundred miles an hour while yelling "It isn't fair! They said one in eight!".
- Used in Terry Bisson's short story The Toxic Donut. The star of the show is chosen by lottery - and this year, they started letting you buy tickets for other people!
- The Hunger Games is a lottery to be put into a Deadly Game. Children between the ages of twelve and eighteen must put in a ticket each year; poorer children can provide for themselves and their families by getting more tickets. These are cumulative, so a poor teenager trying to help feed a large starving family can end up with a truly staggering number of tickets.
- In the Discworld book Hogfather by Terry Pratchett, the ancient winter lottery comes up. A dried bean is put in one bowl, and the one who gets the bean is 'crowned king'. Until they need to slaughter the king to make the sun come up again and get spring to return. This is based on Real Life history, even though it's part of Discworld lore. And it's a plot point more than once.
- It's also mentioned that the lottery is rigged, the priests responsible for serving the beans are skilled at slipping the dried bean into the correct bowl.
- In Philip José Farmer's Attitudes, a gambler from Earth happens upon a group of non-human locals playing a game similar to roulette and convinces them to let him join in. Since his success as a gambler is the result of psychic powers, he does very well in the game until the last spin, when his power is suddenly overwhelmed and one of the locals wins. He then witnesses the fate of the winner; it isn't pleasant.
- In Jorge Luis Borges' "The Lottery of Babylon", the inhabitants of the namesake city run a lottery game in which the prize can be literally anything: from kingship to death by torture.
- Shadows of the Empire: Darth Vader's men draw lots to see who's stuck bringing him bad news, on account of Darth Vader's proclivity for strangling anyone who pisses him off. (The practice itself does not irk him; being a Sith Lord, it pleases him that his subordinates have a healthy amount of fear of him.)
- Humane Tyranny: The government fears the ramifications of an overpopulated country and so they passed a law in which one person every night will be randomly selected to die through lethal injection.
- In the second book of Brian Aldiss' Helliconia series, an orbiting space station observing the eponymous planet has something like this for its residents: the ironically named "Helliconia Holiday Lottery" where the winner gets the chance to actually go down and visit the planet. The catch being that eventually, they inevitably succumb to a deadly virus and die. Still, no winner ever refuses to go.
- The Saga of Erik the Red: Lost in the Greenland Sea on a ship infested with shipworms, and with a lifeboat that can only hold half of them, Bjarni Grimolfsson and his crew cast lots about who is going to get into the lifeboat. The losers are left behind to certain death.
- In The Goblin Tower (and sequels) by L. Sprague de Camp, the king of Xylar is beheaded every five years and his head thrown to the spectators. Whoever catches it is the new king. The protagonist is Jorian, who happened to be passing through Xylar when someone threw a head at him; against the odds he escapes the universes' cushiest death row, and is pursued by his subjects ever after.
Live Action TV
- Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "Ypres 1914". Five WW1 British Army soldiers face a dilemma: they must make a break through enemy lines, but there are only rations for four. One of the methods they use to decide who will take "the other way out" is drawing straws. The joke is the Major keeps drawing the short straw no matter how many times he tries to manipulate it so he doesn't. Likeiwse, the Major fails at a session of "Stone Paper Scissors," when he draws scissors and the others draw stone:
Major: Now, let's see...scissors cut everything, don't they?Sergeant: Not stone, sir.Major: They're very good scissors.
- The Sliders episode "Luck of the Draw" involves a lottery in a seemingly-Utopian world. Players claim some money from special ATM machines, and a random winner (it's implied bigger withdrawals increase the odds) gets the big payout. What the heroes don't know is that the winners are killed by the government in order to keep the population down to preserve the Utopia. It isn't actually a secret, they just didn't ask any questions until it was too late.
- On Lost Hurley wins the lottery. While he doesn't die, everything that happens afterward is terribly unlucky. And his grandfather DOES die. And he gets stranded on the island...maybe death for the other examples wasn't so bad after all...
- A variation of this happens in Battlestar Galactica (1978). On a visit to a planet with a wild west motif, Starbuck is involved in a card game that is rigged for him to win. One of the items he wins is a badge, which forces him to become the town sheriff, a responsibility he can't shrug off easily.
- Inverted in Stargate Universe - the winners of the lottery get to live - more precisely, they get to go on the shuttle fleeing the ship on a collision course with a nearby star. Turns out that the ship was designed to survive going through stars - in fact, this is how it recharges its power reserves.
- In the Eerie Indiana episode "Mr. Chaney", the town uses a lottery to pick a "harvest king" every few years: Supposedly all that happens is that they're sent into the woods with Mr. Chaney as a guide, and if they see the "Eerie wolf", the town will have plentiful crops. Of course, every harvest king seems to mysteriously disappear (it's a running gag that they're all allegedly "in Spain"). It turns out that Chaney unknowingly is the "Eerie wolf" - the town regularly sacrifices one of it's own to Chaney in werewolf form, presumably so he won't run rampant. The lottery is apparently always fixed, and you can be picked to "win" whether you actually entered or not: In this case, the mayor had it rigged so Dash X would win, but Dash X in turn rigged it for Marshall.
- The Goodies: When the Goodies are sealed inside a block of concrete in "The End", they draw straws to see which one of them will be eaten by the other two. Tim and Graeme don't tell Bill that this is what they are drawing for.
- In Agents Of Shield it is revealed that Hydra was initially founded to bring back to Earth the powerful Inhuman Hive, who survives by consuming normal humans, and for centuries members of at least one faction of it ceremonially drew stones out of a bag to decide on a "traveler" who goes through the portal to the planet Hive is on. This is considered an honor and it's hinted not all the people participating even know what's on the other side of the portal, but they do know that no one who goes through the portal ever returns. Although at one point one character rigs the stones to keep himself from ever being chosen (all the stones are supposed to be perfectly smooth, but by switching the deadly white stone with one that has a small but noticeable notch on it, one can ensure that he doesn't pick it so long as he doesn't draw last), and at another Hydra arranges for some astronauts to be sent through the portal instead.
- In Finnish rock song Ajan henki ("Zeitgeist") by Juice Leskinen, the old state lottery where four million people made one happy has been replaced with new state lottery where one person makes four million happy - the "winner" is picked randomly on the census records, taken to Helsinki and clubbed publicly to death...
- Classical Mythology: The young men and women chosen by lottery at Athens were sent to the Cretan Labyrinth to become food for the Minotaur. This comes to an end when Theseus steps up to the plate and kills the Minotaur. This detail goes back to Older Than Feudalism writers such as Apollodorus, Plutarch, and Diodorus Siculus.
- Norse Mythology: In Gesta Danorum, Starkather is sea-roving with king Wikar when they are stopped by permanent storms. They determine that the gods must be appeased by a Human Sacrifice and draw lots over which one of them is going to be sacrificed for fair wind.
- In the legend of St. George the Dragonslayer, the inhabitants of a town beset by a dragon cast lots to determine whose children are going to be fed to the dragon.
- In an early Dilbert strip:
Ted: Everybody pick a straw. The loser has to kill our abusive co-worker, Floyd. ... Dilbert loses, he drew the blue straw.Dilbert (annoyed): I thought the short straw loses.Ted: You're already a murderer; don't be a cheater too.
- In the Ravenloft campaign, Barok Urik von Kharkov, the Darklord of Valachan, chooses his wives this way; every year, a lottery is held in one of Valachan's four towns. It doesn't seem so bad, until you start to contemplate why he needs a replacement every year. (Kharkov is a vampire, and while he has made an honest attempt to keep at least some of them from dying from his feedings, they never last more than a month or so. The common excuse is that they died from white fever, a disease that Kharkov uses as a scapegoat to explain any deaths from him or his vampire servants, which his subjects are either too gullible to disbelieve or too afraid of him to deny.)
- If you get three skulls & crossbones on the aptly named "Slots of Death" slot machine in Space Quest, it kills you with a Disintegrator Ray.
- Crimsonland features its Fatal Lottery perk (not that anybody picks it, though - too ineffective).
- Fallout: New Vegas:
- You come across the town of Nipton where Caesar's Legion has recently held a lottery. Roughly half the town are enslaved. Most of the other half get crucified. The second-prize winner gets his legs broken, with only one person getting the lucky ticket to walk away unharmed. Vulpes Inculta explains that it was all a test of character; he had paid the mayor to turn in both the NCR and Powder Ganger members that visited the town, and he was seeing if the townspeople had any redeeming value at all to the Legion by seeing if they'd rise up against him and his legionnaires after seeing what the prizes were as they worked their way up to the "Winner". Except inspecting the town even further shows Vulpes was lying; you can see several Nipton residents fought back, but were immediately killed and the lottery continued anyway.
- The Legion is apparently fond of this trope. One of Mr. New Vegas's news reports notes that Legate Lanius enacted the ritual of "decimation" (see Real Life below) on an underperforming squad he took over. Dialogue with Caesar confirms Lanius does this regularly.
- An Announcer response in Monday Night Combat makes an offhand reference to a "population control lottery".
- In the adventure game adaptation of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Benny's scenario involves a village of cavemen who have to sacrifice one of their own to AM. The key to the good ending involves Benny saving a mutant child from being sacrificed by offering to be killed in his place.
- Final Fantasy:
- In Borderlands 2, Hyperion runs a monthly one in Overlook, where the "winner" is thrown into the Grinder. There's no reason or even attempted justification for this.
- This trope is also played in Golden Sun The Lost Age, and drives the scenario for Gaia Rock. One person would win the Lottery of Doom to feed the serpent within Gaia Rock. However, there is an effort being made to break this deadly cycle, which is finally broken by Felix's party.
- In the Interactive Fiction game Suspended, your character was selected in a planet-wide lottery to be buried deep undeground in hibernation for 500 years while your subconscious mind regulates the planet's computers. At the beginning of the game, you've been woken up because things are going haywire. Good luck fixing things with your barely-functional robots before you get terminally disconnected.
- Inverted in Shardlight, where "the Lottery" is the only way to get a sample of the rare vaccine against The Plague, known as "Green Lung". A citizen can only enter the Lottery, however, if they work for The Remnant government, which has a habit of sending its agents on very dangerous tasks if not outright Suicide Missions.
- Welcome to Night Vale mentions one of these in episode 8. The winners will be ceremonially disemboweled and eaten by the wolves at the Night Vale Petting Zoo and Makeshift Carnival.
- In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "Dickisode", meals from a certain restaurant in town all come with peel-off lotteries much like the annual McDonald's Monopoly game that include free drinks, meals, coupons... and a one in ten chance to get your dick ripped off. That last part is even mentioned in the commercial, but it's said quickly and quietly. Not even thirty seconds after Carl "wins" the lottery, the collectors show up...
- Squidbillies had the Tricky Two Jackpot. The winner gets torn in half by monster trucks.
- Two or three Speedy Gonzales cartoons start with this trope, particularly if Sylvester is involved. Desperate mice draw straws, and the "winner" attempts to outrun Sylvester. The mouse invariably loses, we see this isn't the first time the mice have lost, and this is what drives them to call for Speedy Gonzales.
- Alluded to in The Venture Bros. when Dean is stricken with acute testicular torsion - Billy tells him how rare it is and Pete chimes in "It's like you won the genetic freak lottery!"
- There were examples of stranded crews in real life pulling straws to see who gets eaten in cases where they ran out of food. When they were not fudging the results or just lying about it when their story is told.
- This is parodied in The Far Side where a man on a life raft is dismayed to find he drew the shortest straw of everyone on his life raft. Which includes a dog.
- The historian Josephus was among a handful of holdouts trapped and surrounded by Roman soldiers, so they cast lots to see who got to die first (they were all planning to die, but since Judaism considers suicide a sin it was up to the others to kill whoever drew the metaphorical straw first); in the end, Josephus and the other remaining survivor surrender to the Romans.
- The amazing thing is that Josephus, an obsessively image-conscious writer who did everything he could to make himself look good, apparently didn't realize how bad a light this story put him in.
- According to Josephus, and there is archeological evidence to support him, the zealots under siege by the Romans at Masada picked lots to decide who would be in charge of killing the rest men after the men had killed their families, and then which of those men would have to kill his fellows before committing suicide.
- There is actually a maths puzzle similar to this (Josephus' Permutation; featured in Professor Layton). A given number of people get in a circle, and starting at a specified person and for a given N, every Nth person is killed and removed from the circle until only 1 remains. The puzzle is to figure out who the survivor is. Whoever the count starts on will be the survivor.
- The amazing thing is that Josephus, an obsessively image-conscious writer who did everything he could to make himself look good, apparently didn't realize how bad a light this story put him in.
- If someone tried to escape a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, the guards would line up all the prisoners and kill every Nth one.
- Ancient Romans used "decimation" as a means of group punishment. The soldiers were divided into groups of ten, and a drawing of lots would decide which one would be killed by the other nine.
- Most ironically of all, the lottery itself. A disturbingly large percentage of jackpot winners die a few years later, either because they went crazy with all the people begging them for money, or because a family member murdered them for it. If they're lucky, they survive as a bankrupt hobo. Long version here.