The practice of casting and drawing lots to make a decision is ancient. It is mentioned in the Old Testament. For instance, when King David was planning war against the Philistines, he had the high priest cast the "Urim and Thummim," the stones that would tell him yes or no. This was supposed to have been God's way of telling them what to do.
In a sense, when we toss a coin and call heads or tails, we are casting lots. However, when we use the word "lottery" today, we don't usually think of making a decision. We think of a big jackpot just waiting to be won. So if we read the story in anticipation that someone is going to get a big prize in the end, we'll be very shocked when we find out the real result of this lottery.
See the link below for an interesting article about the history of casting lots.
There is a juicy irony in the title of the story and the actual outcome. A lottery, like the one in Tennessee or any other state, is where many people purchase a chance to win a huge monetary prize. This is absolutely something everyone would want to win...who can't use a little extra money?
The lottery in the story, however, is not one you want to win. The winner of this lottery results in death. Not many people I know would willingly sign up for an early death by stoning. Each head of the family draws first. The black stone indicates the family to be targeted. Then each member draws. The "winner" gets bludgeoned to death by the townspeople's stones.
When we think of the word "lottery" it is usually linked to many positive connotations. We immediately think of jackpots and millions of dollars. When we read the story, naturally we think "the lottery" is going to be something good, not something dark and sinister. As the story begins to unfold we wonder why the town has so much apprehension about a lottery and why they are not only not excited, but frightened. We find out that the "winner" of this town's lottery actually is stoned to death as a deeply rooted tradition of the town. They believe this sacrifice will somehow preserve the way of life this town has become accustomed to.
Note: Connotations are the feelings connected to words and phrases. Connotations can be either positive, negative, or neutral.