Thursday, September 29, 2005


Some interesting news in North Carolina today. We just got a lottery, with the Governor's backing--it passed in a narrow vote with a strange-bedfellows coalition of liberal Demos and social-conservative Repos opposing it. And there was some chicanery and resulting bad feelings with the final vote: basically, the legislative session went into overtime and a couple of No votes had already left town and were unavailable to cast their votes.

I was opposed to it. I lived in New Jersey as a teenager, where there was a lottery. One summer I worked on a landscaping crew and one of the older guys, doing pretty much the same work as me for not much more money, with no better future prospects than mowing lawns, who I'm sure lived paycheck to paycheck and struggled to make his rent, was an inveterate Lotto player. That's my image of the typical lottery-ticket buyer. As a grown-up in North Carolina I took pride in being from a state that was one of the few holdouts against the lottery. I pretty much agree with the old joke that the lottery is a tax on poor math skills, and the hypocrisy of using a lottery to fund education just angers me. The numbers racket also nurtures a something-for-nothing or get-rich-quick ethic that I think society would be better off without.

But it's a done deal. Now it'll be a test of my principles, or self-righteousness or whatever, if I resist the temptation to buy the occasional ticket. "Maybe just when the pot gets really big...."

Anyway, to chair the new-lottery commission, Gov. Mike Easley appointed Charlie Sanders, who was a prominent opponent of the lottery bill. Sanders seems to want to have a "humane" lottery, with limited advertising, and an effort to inform people about the odds against winning. The argument you always heard in favor of the lottery was that people from NC were driving to SC or VA to buy tickets anyway. Sanders's attitude is, let's capture those people who are predisposed to play the lottery, but not expand the pool of ticket buyers through hype. Probably it'll never happen that way, but I thought it was a very good gesture. And exactly the kind of thing a Republican administration would never do after they had just won a bitterly-contested vote.

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