Ah…the lottery. Here in Maine we sure do love it: Megabucks, Powerball, Paycheck, Pick 3/Pick 4…and, of course, scratch tickets. To say that the majority of lottery tickets are purchased by people who can ill afford them–and would be better off stuffing the money they spend on them in a sock (or in an interest accruing savings account)–is like saying the sky is blue. A big fat “duh.” So I’ll spare that lecture. Instead I’ll give you a personal glimpse into what I consider a big fat problem.
Twenty-eight year old single mother of three. She works as a waitress in a restaurant one town over. Every night she uses $20 of her tip money to buy a scratch ticket. Yes, you read that right: one 20 dollar ticket. A few weeks ago she was fortunate enough to win $100. I was pretty excited for her, even though I know she spends more than that every week on the damned things. At least this week she’d make some of her money back. And what did she do with her winnings? Yep, you guessed it: she spent it all–that’s right…100 bucks!–on scratch tickets. Five 20 dollar tickets. And, of course, she won nothing. She blew $120 in one night for a big fat nothing. Then she bought milk and bread for her kids’ breakfast. With her food stamp card.
Picture Steve Perry circa “Oh Sherry” with no top teeth, covered with tattoos and wearing biker clothes; that’s Winner #2. Every day he buys a twelve pack of Miller High Life, three packs of Mavericks, and a five dollar scrach ticket. Last Saturday he won $1000, which is pretty cool. There was a problem, though. I can’t cash a ticket that high. He had to go into Augusta to claim the money.
“Oh…the state has to get involved?”
“That won’t work. I owe child support and they’d take it all for that.”
I didn’t say what I was thinking, which was: Good for them, you cheap, selfish bastard. I just nodded.
“But,” he continued, “you could always go down there and turn it in for me.”
“No I couldn’t.”
“Sure you could. I’ll give you a hundred bucks.”
“Plus gas money.”
“Fine.” Then he walked out the door. In a huff.
I worked yesterday morning (in addition to my overnight shifts, I now work Saturday mornings as well) and Winner #2 came in. He hauled four twelve packs of Michelob Light over to the counter and asked for five cartons of Marlboro. Then he brought out his wallet, which was filled with a huge wad of twenty dollar bills.
“Someone cashed your ticket in for you?” I asked.
“How much did you have to give them.”
He scowled before he admitted: “Half.”
And there he was, spending it on cigarettes and beer while his ex-wife struggled to get child support from the asshole. Oh, and he bought a five dollar scratch ticket. It wasn’t a winner.
* And now, as a bonus–and because I don’t want you to think that all Mainers are ignorant hicks–allow me to present:
A family of three. Hubby and wife are in their late twenties, the kid is about four. Both parents have decent paying jobs but still struggle to make ends meet. A few weekends ago, the family was out together and popped into the store to buy a bottle of Bug Juice for the kid. He looked up with eager eyes at the scratch tickets in front of him. He was particularly enthralled with Mustang Money, a five dollar ticket.
“Mommy, can you buy the car ticket?”
“No. I don’t waste money on scratch tickets.”
“Please? Please, please, please??”
This went on for a few moments before she finally capitulated. She even let him do the scratching. We all smiled when he won five dollars.
“Another one!” he said.
“No. You should save this money.”
“Please? Please, please, please??”
“Tell you what,” Dad said. “You save two dollars and spend the rest on that ticket right there.”
He pointed to Tic Tac Toe, a three dollar ticket. The kid could see the logic in this, so he agreed. He scratched his brand new ticket…and won $300. Naturally, he wanted another ticket. Fortunately his parents knew when to say when. They gave the kid fifty bucks to spend on toys at Walmart, and set up a savings account for him with the rest. Hurrah for small miracles.
If you’re interested in reading about Mainers of the fictional variety, head over to Readers and Writers Blog for Chapter 15 of Waiting for Spring. Also new there today is Chapter 27: Sutro Heights of Gerard Jones’ Ginny Good. This chapter made me cry. Poor Melanie…