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State and national lotteries are still open during the pandemic, considered essential businesses. And they are essential. The problem is they shouldn’t be. The lottery website asks players not to make a special trip just to purchase a ticket, to buy tickets only when they are part of a planned visit to the grocery store or gas station. But that’s rather like a television ad for alcohol showing people partying to excess and concluding with, “Please drink responsibly.”

Lotteries Are Essential

We all know that human psychology is complex, that people still smoke despite the Surgeon General’s warning on every package of cigarettes, despite commercials showing throat cancer survivors puffing out of a hole carved into their neck.

I’ve been at church gatherings where someone will offer a benediction over the refreshment table. “Heavenly Father, we ask thee to bless this food that it will strengthen and nourish our bodies.” Then everyone digs into the potato chips and doughnuts.

Lotteries take advantage of our deeply ingrained ability to ignore the truth. So do politicians.

I continue to buy lottery tickets during the pandemic, even knowing I’m risking my health and the health of my husband

I continue to buy lottery tickets during the pandemic, even knowing I’m risking my health and the health of my husband. Why do I behave so irresponsibly? Why am I so cavalier about the danger to myself and others?

I do it because I’m desperate.

Even before the pandemic, I was barely getting by with two part-time jobs paying only slightly above minimum wage. At the age of 59, I’m still paying down my student loan. I have no siding on one wall of my house. I’m on public transportation. I’ve lost one of my jobs to the virus and may lose the other. I’m still eight years away from Social Security, assuming the program hasn’t been completely gutted by then.

So I walk twenty-five minutes to the closest grocery to buy lottery tickets and another twenty-five minutes back.

Even as I acknowledge my difficult circumstances, I think of the undocumented workers who can’t get any assistance at all. I think of asylum-seekers trapped in conditions that will kill a third of them once the virus starts sweeping through detention centers. I think of the millions of prisoners with convictions for non-violent offenses who are sitting ducks in confinement. I think about how those released early have nowhere to go. I think of all the other homeless folks in the U.S.

Most of the people demanding we “reopen the economy” don’t have a death wish. Some, of course, are deluded by the false information they receive from right-wing corporate media. But others simply realize the government isn’t going to help them. Their anger, however, is misplaced. What they should be demanding is universal healthcare, fair wages, a guaranteed minimum income, dismissal of student loans, and higher taxes on the rich. When we see 22 million new unemployment claims simultaneously with a steep rise in the stock market, we know that a “successful economy” does not include us.

I’m not the only person buying lottery tickets, but we try to stay six feet apart in line.

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My sister, an LPN at a nursing home, is out with a suspected case of COVID-19. Suspected, not confirmed, because of the difficulty in obtaining a test. She gets no health insurance from her employer, hasn’t seen a doctor in years. Even the ACA hasn’t been any help, as she’s never been able to afford the policies offered. It was cheaper for her to pay the tax penalty and not get coverage for her money.

In the movie Logan’s Run, almost every citizen is killed when they reach the age of thirty. A few people, though, have a fighting chance, if they participate in a game that has them flying up through the air trying to reach the lone prize. As spectators watch, the contestants are zapped to death, one by one. During the course of the film, the hero discovers to his dismay that no one ever wins.

The regional lottery office one town over from me is closed until the pandemic is over. If I do somehow end up with a winning ticket, I’ll need to take public transportation to the state capitol to claim it.

In 1991, when Klansman David Duke ran for governor of Louisiana, former governor Edwin Edwards, known for his corruption, saw a chance at re-election. One of the unofficial slogans of the campaign was, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.”

Edwards, who loved his trips to Las Vegas, never wasted a single dollar on the lottery. He understood gambling well enough to realize what the odds of winning actually were.

One of the courses that drove up my student loan balance was Statistics. I understand the odds, too.

But there is another lottery tonight, and I’ve already bought a ticket.

Maybe this time, I’ll win. My money troubles will be over, and I’ll finally be free to retire immediately.

To spend my remaining years a witness to the horrors caused by an economic and political system that feasts on the misery of the poor.

Johnny Townsend

Unless we become as relentless in changing the world as a novel coronavirus.

Johnny Townsend

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