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The Lottery; It's more than just a numbers game

By the Cynic
cynic@politicalusa.com

2/1/2001

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Just about every state is running some sort of authorized lottery these days. Whether it be the pick 3 and pick 4 or the multimillion dollar jackpot varieties, lotteries are great ways for states to generate revenue for schools and other sorts of programs.

So why am I going to complain about them? Because that's what I do.

I am a fan of gambling in concept. I think it should be legal in every state. I don't gamble because, frankly, I stink at it. I over think things. I try to apply strategy where none should exist. I am even bad at guessing the answers to questions on the Millionaire show. I am what Vegas thug-types would call a prime sucker.

That being said, everyone is not me. People work hard for their money (OK, other people work hard for their money) and if they want to blow a hundred bucks on a football game wager, why should the state care?

 Oh that's right, the state views gambling as wrong. It destroys families. It's a vice. The state cannot condone any activity that it deems immoral or oppressive.

But wait...The state figured out it can generate cash from gambling. Not through the traditional method of taxing gambling, but with running it's own numbers racket. They can use this money to "fund the schools"(wink, wink). So they institute a state lottery. This way people can go about their immoral activity and then they can help the kids. Everyone wins.

First of all, considering that I would go to jail for performing the exact same act above (with much better odds), I cannot comprehend the willingness for the public to go along with such a scheme. When police officers go about their town looking for bars that pay out on their video poker machines, the state is running this multi-million dollar 'pick-um' game. The state should minimally hold itself within the structure of the laws they create, not legislating the morality of preventing gambling on one hand, and scooping up billions on that very vice itself. 

 I once worked in a food store that was a "certified lottery representative." Prior to this experience, I didn't have a particular problem with the lottery (other than it was the state doing what it told us we couldn't do). There are people who invest large portions of their day devoted to 'number tracking'. They would write up number histories, buy books and spend countless hours devoted to trying to determine what set of pick 3 numbers would come up next. These are people who easily would shell out $40 a day for a grand prize of $500. None of these people ever get ahead of the lottery. They would have to win once every two weeks just to break even. Often, they would go stretches of months without winning.

These weren't suburban housewives with a little extra cash to throw around. The food store that employed me was in a working class neighborhood. These people could best be described as 'lower-middle class'. These are the same people who, after blowing $20 dollars on instant scratch off lottery tickets, would complain that the price of milk went up 20 cents. These were not people who can afford a $15,000 per year lottery habit.

What the lottery comes down to is a tax (on those who are bad at math). It taxes the poor looking to cash in on a big jackpot. It then takes some of that money and gives it to middle class schools. The rest goes to the general fund and that money will go to subsidize some business, which probably doesn't need to be subsidized. It's like Robin Hood in reverse; Take from the poor and give to the rich.

Gambling is a vice. It is going to exist in one shape or another whether the government forbids it or not. As with all vices, the government has no place trying to protect you from destroying yourself. Assisting you in that action, that's another matter altogether.

The Cynic, 2001

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