Last night, while we were at the grocery store doing our big monthly trip, I couldn’t help but notice the lottery ticket kiosk set up next to the penny horse that our kids were taking turns riding. While we were there, an elderly man in a motorized cart waited somewhat patiently for the attendant to return from break. He was clinging to a crumpled up piece of paper in his left hand, which I assume was his list of Pick 4 numbers or the like. It got me thinking.
Last week I was getting gas at a gas station (which is usually a good place to get it) and I had to wait for the lotto line to finish up before I could pay for my gas. I just watched.
Before last night, I had actually been thinking about the lottery earlier this week. I saw a commercial several times this week on TV with a well-dressed, suburban, African American couple standing in their beautiful kitchen listening to their Toucan talk about Million Dollar Mega Play. (Yes, it is as bad as it sounds). The commercial ends with them racing to the car to go get the tickets. What seems odd to me is that I never saw this nice couple in any of the “real” lotto lines this week. Not even close. Forgive my profiling, but for the most part, these lines were filled with people who did not just happily race from their granite countertop, custom cabinetry kitchens to their three car garage where they climbed into their SUV. These people, for the most part, looked sad. They looked desperate, like the man counting the minutes until the attendant got off break so he could pick his numbers.
When I was in high school back in Jersey, I worked in the now extinct Pagano’s Pharmacy. It was a strange experience being only fifteen and sixteen and being able to sell cigarettes and run the lotto machine. As long as I was minding the register, the boss didn’t really care what we did and so, on quiet nights, I would do what every underage kid wants to do…I would play the lottery. I can remember one especially boring night where I worked my way through about twenty scratch-offs in five minutes. I won two dollars. I made six dollars an hour. This was not a good hour for me. Actually, its amazing how addicting it was. There is something thrilling about knowing thousands, maybe even millions of dollars lay hidden just beneath a thin layer of shiny silver. All you have to do is find it, and its yours. Well, half of it. The government gets the other, but still.
I am going to leave the “morals” of the lottery to someone else. I’m not going to take a stance on if the lottery is right or wrong for a Christian. Also, I have seen all of the commercials about how the proceeds from the lottery go to supporting local schools. I’m not ready to give a thumbs up and a smile to that. Here is what I will say though- people in drastic situations will take drastic measures; they will reach for any glimmer of hope that could change their circumstances for the better. For many, what the lottery offers is a hope that better days are possible. Sadly, it is an unrealistic hope, as money leaves the pockets and rarely returns. The hope of freedom somehow becomes worth the risk, and in only the most extreme instances does the risk prove profitable.
Back at the pharmacy, I can remember watching my manager, Jim, play the lottery every night. The guy was all business. He had a system. Do not mess with Jimmy when he’s getting lotto. One particular night I was watching him go through scratch-offs like playing cards. I was standing there when he hit several thousand dollars on a Win for Life ticket. His reaction was stone-faced…the penny just kept scratching. “Dude- you just won five thousand dollars!” I’ll never forget his response. He just kept going down the stack and said, “I’m so far behind it’s going to take the million.”
This man was not free. He would have been less of a slave had he just written a check to the State of New Jersey every night for several hundred dollars. At least then he wouldn’t expect something in return.
I don’t know why I felt like writing about this. I think I just get tired of seeing people taken advantage of. Now, do they choose to part with their money? Sure. Are they responsible for their own actions? Sure. But aren’t we responsible for the welfare and dignity of the person next to us? Does it really help anyone to give the illusion that the people who are “playing the lotto” are wealthy, middle to upper class suburbanites? Let me say it this way; can’t we offer a better hope?
Okay. I’m done. I’m gonna go print that on a mug or something…