P. T. Barnum Would Have Loved Our Lottery

From The Game to Power Ball, a gambling fever endures.

A couple of times every year, lottery fever hits Salem and other communities across the country. Once it hits it spreads quickly without regard for race, creed, color or sexual preference. Many succumb to this fever. 

Gambling may be classified as a disease, but lottery fever is not. If it was, the powers that be would be moved to declare it an epidemic, isolate and perhaps move to eradicate it.

The first symptoms in Massachusetts occurred in 1972 when "The Game" was created. I remember those tickets in my Grandfathers store, Bill's Variety. They came 24 to a sheet and cost fifty cents a piece. That game was basically the end of lotteries as criminal enterprise. It had become a state-sanctioned and controlled business.

The lottery was sold to the public as a way to generate revenue for the 351 cities and towns of the Commonwealth. In reality it was, and still is, a clever way to get the average schmuck (that would be you and me) to voluntarily tax ourselves.

One of the first "millionaires" lived in Salem over by the Common. His photo ran in the Salem Evening News along with a little story. I remember a bearded man in his twenties posing on the front page with his wife. I sometimes wonder what became of them.

A couple of years later, not being content with the additional revenue the Commonwealth got creative and brought us the scratch ticket. That concept really took off and now we get over twenty new "instant" games every year.

What we have now is a state lottery program that is approaching 5 Billion dollars in sales.  21% of that revenue is returned to cities and towns while 76% is allocated to pay winners. The rest goes to operating costs, marketing and the general fund. 

The giant jackpots created by combining ticket sales with other state lotteries are just another way to market to a gullible and increasingly desperate public. Who among us doesn't dream on occasion of incredible wealth?

We rail constantly against fees, surcharges, taxes and other ways that government has devised to separate us from our money. The CPA debate in Salem is the most recent example. Yet every day tax payers buy lottery tickets in the hope of getting rich. 

We've gone from the a single game in 1972 to dozens of games, all designed to empty our pockets. Scratch tickets led to mega-millions which led to Power Ball. Somewhere along the line they figured out that combining one addiction with another was good and Keno was introduced.

Hey, it's all good as long as that 800 number for compulsive gamblers is right there where you can see it.

The problem with the someone has to win premise, is that everyone else has to lose. More winners for lesser awards would be better, but less attractive than the single huge prize.

Well Salem, I don't play anymore. The fever has passed. It's been more than a year since a dollar of mine has been spent on the lottery.

Barnum never actually said "there's a sucker born every minute", it was actually uttered by George Hull, Barnum's chief rival in nineteenth century hucksterism.

They both would have loved the lottery.

Bill December 03, 2012 at 02:49 PM
better quotes by H.L. Mencken can refer to the lottery and the recent elections Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard. Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.


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