“There’s a sucker born every minute.”
It seems that Phineas T. Barnum never actually said that famous line, but at various times in his colorful career he certainly was a politician (four terms in the General Assembly), the founder of a circus, a promotor of celebrated hoaxes, a risk taker, and always a showman, whose self-avowed aim was “to put money in his own coffers.”
How appropriate, then, that all these years after Mr. Barnum cashed in his chips, Connecticut, his home state, should be carrying on his tradition of lawfully flimflamming the public by operating a flashy, but legal, regressive taxing scheme called the lottery. Not that we can afford to give up any source of revenue these days, but lotteries in general make much of their loot from those who can least afford to lose it: the poor, the under-educated. And the CT Lottery goes after the gullible with a vengeance.
Consider, if you will, the names of some of the scratch-off games promoted by our beloved Nutmeg State. (Oops! That nickname brings to mind another home-grown scam: the Yankee peddlers of yore who developed a spicy reputation for selling fake nutmegs carved out of wood.) Anyway, we’ve got Lucky Links, Lucky for Life, Lucky Times 10, Lucky 7s and Lucky Bucks — five ways right there to throw our money away on games that the state-sanctioned lottery boldly claims are “lucky.”
And then we have games called Jingle Jackpot and Holiday Riches (those two especially pitched for the Christmas season), Lots of Loot, Run the Table, Dollar Signs, Jumbo Bucks and Money Mania.
These practices, according to the CT Lottery, are “consistent with the highest standards of good public policy and social responsibility.” And, lest anyone go hog wild with greed and lose their shirt, we are warned to “please play responsibly.” That ought to work.
But what, exactly, does “lucky” mean? According to Mr. Webster, it means “producing or resulting in good by chance,” “fortunate,” “providential” — words that suggest being “blessed,” perhaps with help from “a higher power.”
Are we supposed to believe that the State of Connecticut can magically endow us with odds that are better than mere chance, just because we bought a lottery ticked emblazoned with the magic word “lucky”?
Are we supposed to think that the state is in touch with some higher power that can bless us in this way whenever we turn over our cash? That’s a tall order for any state, especially for one that can’t even manage to balance its own books.
How is this not false advertising? If a carnival barker were to use those same names to lure people into playing a game of chance, would he not be hauled into court by the legal authorities of the same state that relies on its allegedly “lucky” scratch-off tickets, and other games, to put more than $320 million into its piggy bank annually?
Consulting Mr. Webster again, The Land of Steady Habits might more accurately be called the land of cagey habits, or crafty habits, or devious, dodgy, guileful, scheming, shrewd, slick, sly or wily habits. How about The Land of Shady Habits?
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.