I stand there in my little convenience store, working the till. I watch all the folks come up with their goods to purchase, most of which is quite expensive really because you’re paying for “convenience” not economy. Oh sure we have our loss leaders - cheap bread, eggs, milk and the like to bring people in. We cater to the usual vices; tobacco, alcohol and - increasingly bothersome to me - lotteries.
“The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory. There was a whole tribe of men who made their living simply by selling systems, forecasts, and lucky amulets. Winston had nothing to do with the Lottery, which was managed by the Ministry of Plenty, but he was aware (indeed everyone in the party was aware) that the prizes were largely imaginary. Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being nonexistent persons.”
― George Orwell, 1984
I didn’t expect to be a numbers runner at age 54. I didn’t expect to watch the same people come in daily to buy a couple of dollars of the same tickets for the same couple of games. I didn’t expect to see people dropping 50 to 100 dollars on scratch off tickets that may promise that 70% will be winners (but how many are even the cost of that $5, $10 or $20 scratch off?) I know the cynical cant that the lottery is a tax on the numerically illiterate but it cuts deeper than that. Many of these people understand at least on a gut level that they have no chance - no chance of winning and no chance without winning. But like those who fall victim to one of our other vices, alcohol, they hardly ever see to blame what has really left them in that spot (GOP politics of hate, greed & shame) and think that maybe this time that big jackpot will lift them up out of the mud.
I’ve bought a ticket or two in that fantasy (hey you _can not_ win if you don’t even play) when I’ve felt I had the $2 to waste and I had just as much a realistic chance as those dropping hundreds (I’ve stood there and punched up a several hundred dollar bet on nights when the jackpot is stupid large) and both they and I had the same result for our mutual expenditures.
But then someone somewhere sooner or later wins the stupid large jackpot and it goes back to just the usual older folks buying their several dollars a day in desperate hope they can win enough to matter. I’d almost rather they were out at the casino on the Rez since that place is there just to take the money from people and they do a good job at lifting the people of their Tribe up - there are water mains now to all places on the Rez, the people I played with as a child don’t have dirt floors for their children to play on & they have schools & medical facilities that are equal to those in town. Yet would I be any better in wishing that an alcoholic spent their money in a bar so I wouldn’t have to watch them by selling them beer myself?
The lottery was, of course, sold to us on the premise that it would help fund our schools without having having to raise those pesky property taxes. It was never pointed out that property taxes are a bad way to be funding schools in the first place and that ending all property tax and having sensible progressive income taxes on both personal and corporate income would be a far more wise and just way of financing all aspects of those things we want the civilization of our state and nation to provide?
“You know you are capitalism’s ideal puppet (and that education betrayed you) when winning the lottery is your only chance to realizing financial freedom.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
In the end, I have no solutions. Just a nagging pain in the back of my head every time I sell a ticket, scratch off or drawing. I can’t say what we should do; I have a hard time wondering what we could even manage to do. And I can’t help but hear echos of laughter out of the past as the karma of other vices catches up to the buyers of lottery tickets today.