Friday, September 5, 2014

Scratching Away the Scratch

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Supposedly one of the reasons that poor people will often vote for Republicans, the party of millionaires and billionaires, is that they plan on one day being filthy rich themselves.  That, of course, seldom happens, and as these hopeful millionaires begin to age and see their chances of achieving fame or fortune dimming, they become desperate and begin investing some (usually all) of their disposable income in games of chance.

Some of the older people whom I've met out here will make weekend trips to casinos where they usually leave their surplus cash.  But the nearest casino to West Plains, Missouri, is over four hours away, so that is not an option for the masses with more limited means.  If they want to squander their money in hopeless attempts to get rich quick, they often wind up in what I call the "local casinos," or quick stops, where they clutter up the store aisles scratching lottery tickets.

Invariably I find myself in line at the cash register behind one of these professional scratchers.    They turn in their seven dollars in winners and then order as assortment of new tickets with varying prices.  The math involved can be staggering, and I have seen multiple transactions where the young person working the counter has to call over a manager to help tally the sale.  Then, with seventy-five dollars in new tickets, the sucker takes one step to the side and begins scratching anew - seeking that warm glow of instant gratification.

It doesn't make any difference how much money they "win," because most scratchers will keep scratching until all of their scratch is gone.

I buy, on average, one scratchers' ticket a year - and invariably lose.  This year, however, I bought a two-dollar ticket on a whim, went to my car where I could scratch in privacy, and found that I had won twenty dollars.  I left the quick stop with eighteen dollars profit.  (People like me are not good for the "game."  A professional scratcher would have reinvested that entire twenty dollars again and ridden that horse until it died.)

If these small town quick stops are going to function effectively as casinos, I think the legislature should do some tweaking to current laws.  What would be the harm, for instance, in having cocktail waitresses serving complimentary drinks to people lined up waiting to buy scratchers' tickets?   Most states, like Missouri, maintain the fiction that lottery proceeds go to fund education in the state, so it could be argued that these scantily clad drink servers are every bit as important to a child's future as a competent classroom teacher.

Maybe schools could repay the favor by allowing the use of their parking lots for casino quick stop customers during times of high-volume scratching, and perhaps school bus drivers could supplement their modest incomes by becoming parking attendants for the scratchers.

This could easily morph into a full-employment program.  Everyone of those newly employed cocktail waitresses and car-parkers would have more money to spend on scratchers' tickets.  Taxes would go down as lottery sales increased - allowing the rich to put more space between themselves and the poor  rich wannabes.  Politicians would be able to find jobs for their sycophant relatives and in-laws in the state lottery commissions (organizations that benefit from lotteries more than the schools).  Even the companies that print lottery tickets would wind up employing more people.

Turning local quick stops into mini-casinos would be a huge win for everyone - except, of course, the poor schmuck standing in the aisle scratching away his last dollar.

No comments: