Lotto

Chaos in Print

My all-time favourite book is George Orwell’s 1984. There are a lot of interpretations to that book, and you can learn a lot from it. Most of what I learned came from where I originally read it: Mr. Johnson’s English 30 class. I remember there was a hint of desperation in the air when the class read it. It was one of Mr. Johnson’s favourite books to teach, and my grade 12 year was the last year he could teach it. No big “book banning” scandal here…every couple of years the list of novels that fit the needs of the English curriculum is revised, and back in 1995, 1984 didn’t make the cut. Granted, he could keep on teaching it, but it now involved filling out forms and excess paperwork and it all wasn’t worth the hassle. So, it was the last year for 1984.

Damn. I’m already off topic in the introductory paragraph.

I’ll never forget one of the lessons that came out of a class discussion. One of the things that pops up in 1984 is the lottery. Many of the proles are seen playing the lottery or checking the paper for the winning numbers. The discussion revolved around why would a brutal totalitarian regime hold lotteries? I mean, if someone won the lottery, they’d get a buttload of money, and their 15 minutes of fame, everything needed to spread the word of the revolution. Right?

As we continued discussing, we remembered that no one in the book actually wins the lottery. We only see scenes of people tearing up their tickets in disgust and vague news reports of the winners. But, we’d already read enough of the novel to know that the Orwellian media is completely fabricated; telling the people what the government wants them to hear. So, the class speculated that, perhaps, there were no lottery winners. Perhaps the lottery was part of the propaganda machine, designed to give a sense of false hope to the people. In this light, the lottery, then, was a tool of oppression.

“Exactly!” said Mr. Johnson, as this was obviously the conclusion he wanted us to reach. “Now then,” he continued, “given this realization, who else finds it a little disturbing that the provincial government has a whole ministry dedicated to the lottery?”

He was right. Lotteries and Gaming has grown to be a rather large cabinet portfolio. According to statistics in the 2001 provincial election, 40% of the Alberta Government’s revenue comes from lotteries, VLTs, and other forms of gambling. It’s all enough to make me do a double take. And that’s why I don’t play the lottery.

Well, that, and my darn math degree. Take any statistics course and the first exercise they make you do is calculate the odds of winning Lotto 6/49. Do that enough times, and you’ll be convinced that the best way to become a millionaire is to put your money in the bank.

Now, with all that being said, there is one time in the year when I do find myself playing the lottery. Every Christmas, I always get a few scratch and win tickets stuffed into my stocking. You see the TV ads for the special envelopes of 10 scratch and win tickets…I tend to get one of those. On Christmas morning, after all the presents are torn open and the new DVDs are playing, I sit down and I start scratching, wondering if, maybe, this Christmas, I’d get a new car in addition to my other goodies. No such luck yet, but I thought that maybe this Christmas would be the year.

I scratched and scratched and scratched. From the 10 tickets, I walked away with $15. That’s my biggest haul to date. But I didn’t run down to the store and cash in. No…this is a trick I learned from my mother the odd time she’d buy a scratch and win ticket. See, most convenience stores are cool. If you want to trade you $1 winning ticket for a ticket that costs $1, they’ll let you do that. And that’s what I did today. I walked down to the store with my handful of winning tickets, and walked home with $15 worth of brand new tickets. In the end, though, it was a bit of a mistake. My $15 got whittled down to $7. And the cycle continues. I’ll head back to the store tomorrow and $7 worth of new tickets, and so on, until I’m broke.

It’s kind of fun. As my Dad once told me, part of the fun is knowing that you’re getting ripped off. And, the way I see it, it’s not any of my money. So, I just keep going until it runs out.

Perhaps it is a tool of oppression. Perhaps it is just a false hope. I’m sure we’ve all had our dreams of what we’d do if we won the lottery. But, perhaps as long as I’m aware of what it’s all about, I can avoid being oppressed. But I’ll just keep going until it ends. And then, I’ll go back to my real life.

That’s the different between a false hope and a genuine hope. False hope you can let go of. Real hope stays with you.

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