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It's a Crap Shoot

by Lucy Perkins

pull: No doubt Gov. Easley's been pondering the implications of a super-educated race of South Carolinians swarming his state's borders. I don't blame him. It is a scary thought.

It's a Get-Rich-Quick Scheme that is brilliant in its simplicity. The key to it lies in its audience. After all, who better to appeal to in such a scheme than people who want to get rich quick -- and without doing much? No wonder states surrounding North Carolina have had so much success with a state-sponsored lottery! It's only natural that a government would love a program wherein people just give all their money straight to the aforementioned state agency. And this way, people give the money willingly, as opposed to the normal course of events when the government has to snooker its citizens out of money by taking it out of their paychecks before they see it, or by tacking it on to groceries and other products they have to buy.

Southern states used to have a bit of a conundrum regarding lotteries. One of the biggest arguments against what is essentially state-sponsored gambling is that it creates yet another opportunity for people to neglect their children (it's video poker, but state sponsored). On one hand, Southern state governments are just as likely to steal baby food from the mouths of toddlers as Illinois or New York, but on the other hand they have to maintain the ruse that they're staunch Bible Belt conservatives who believe that gambling, whoring, cheating, lying, and dancing are activities that'll send you straight to hell upon death. Thievery, though, such as stealing tax money, is apparently not a deadly sin.

So there was a gap of some years before the lottery deal just got so sweet that the Southern states had to get in on it. Certain Southern states quickly realized that their staunch traditionalism would not be endangered by the lottery as long as they could engage in cold-blooded, fork-tongued hypocrisy in every press release. Past experience told them this was not impossible.

In our humble neck of the woods, this means that Georgia and Virginia started lotteries while the Carolinas held back a bit. In the meantime, however, an amazing thing began to happen in Georgia and Virginia. Each and every child in Georgia and Virginia got him or herself educationalized, as George W. might say. Suddenly the ignorance rates in both of these states began to drop dramatically. At least, that's the word from Hot-lanta and Richmond.

Another shocking side effect was that travel from the Carolinas to Georgia and Virginia skyrocketed. Back when Southern states decried gambling in all of its many forms, people mostly planned trips out-of-state for things like vacations and long weekends with the kids. Once the lotteries were established and people were encouraged that it wasn't really sinning if you were sending someone else's ill-educated little snot to a state university, spontaneous out-of-state travel increased. For example, instead of planning a weekend trip to buy lottery tickets, a wife and mother might say, I'm going out to buy milk! Then when she returned nine hours later, she would have spoiled milk and a fistful of lottery tickets with only, It was right on the way. . . as an excuse.

South Carolina, savvy state that it is, quickly lost an internal battle with its conscience and decided any measures to educate South Carolinians would not only improve the state's reputation (49th in the nation and moving up!) but could ensure the survival of the species of Homo southcaroliniens. After all, college-educated people are less likely to ask the question, Hey, Bo, what happens when you stick your hand in the engine while it's running?

So South Carolina caved. North Carolina is stuck with the position of being the defender of the Bible Belt. Fortunately, Gov. Mike Easley is ready to ameliorate that position immediately. No doubt he's been sitting around pondering the implications of a super-educated race of South Carolinians swarming the borders of this state. I don't blame the Governor. It is a scary thought.

But here I'm forced, however grudgingly, to agree with the position of the religious right: I don't think North Carolina should have a lottery, either. I hasten to note that this doesn't have anything to do with saving people's souls from hell. Lots of people will probably wind up in hell, and that's a fact I've come to accept and even to appreciate.

I just don't see why the state should function as some kind of off-kilter Robin Hood, taking money from the poor and the stupid to give to the middle-class and the moderately intelligent. I'll be the first to grant you that people who'll spend their money on lottery tickets will probably find some other method of blowing their cash. But why should the state of North Carolina benefit from the stupidity of its denizens? More specifically, why should the people who are already somewhat better off be allowed to prey on others just because they don't have the sense God gave pine needles? Well, smart people are going to prey on stupid people; that's just life -- but the state doesn't have to sanction it!

When I first moved to North Carolina, I thought this state already had quite a scheme going with the state-run ABC stores. That's an impressively low-key way to profit from vice. In some ways, though, it still strikes me as somewhat inappropriate, even though I've gotten used to the idea. But a state-run lottery goes a step too far. The state already has enough money-making schemes to keep business running for awhile anyway. Why add to the misery?

The Governor wants to use lottery revenues to fund a new education initiative which, he thinks, will improve schooling in the state. The truth is that the kids of stupid parents are still going to get the same crappy education they've been subject to all along. And with their college funds being spend on lottery tickets, I doubt they'll end up with any kind of higher education.

Not having a lottery will mean certain people will continue to drive north or south of the border, trying to win the lottery. And those states will continue to think (or at least say they think) that this is improving the education of their kids. But in North Carolina, we'll truly be educating our kids when we say that it's not the government's business to take advantage of people and condone their idiocy. In the long run, it will be our citizens who benefit from the lack of a lottery.

Of course, we won't feel that way once the super-educated South Carolinians start taking over the world, but frankly I think we've got a little time before that happens.

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