24 January 2016

Flash Fiction– The Gamble

Leigh Lundin
Imagine a game I invite you to play. Here are the rules:
  1. You put down $1. Me, nothing.
  2. We flip a coin.
  3. If you win, you get 50¢ back.
  4. If I win, I get your $1 bill.
In a nutshell, I’ve described exactly how lotteries work. Simply substitute ‘the state’ for the first person pronoun and ‘the public’ for the second person ‘you’.

Astonishing, isn’t it? You could make it more accurate by substituting ‘the poor’ for ‘the public’, because that’s the lottery’s primary target.

The lotteries like to tout the advantages. “It allows people to dream for a little while,” says Florida’s own lottery commissioner.” “It pays for education (sorta, kinda)” insists New York’s. “It allows the public to join in a social exercise,” claims a professor.

But for all that, the lottery has one, sole purpose: It’s a cynical tax on the poor. Do politicians honestly believe states implemented lotteries to entertain the masses? Or even benefit their citizens in some way? They’re put in place to shift taxes away from those who don’t want to pay– the wealthy.

A young woman named Cinnamon represents the lotteries’ prime target. Convinced she couldn’t lose, she blew her family’s $800 (or much more depending upon the source) rent and grocery budget buying tickets. I feel sad for the girl, even sadder for her family, victims of the lottery culture.

But she’s got chutzpah. She went on Go Fund Me, where some of us might donate a little to people with serious medical issues. (Consider helping writer Kevin Tipple’s wife Sandi for her cancer treatment.) Our plucky girl Cinnamon wrote this:
Please help me and my family as we have exausted [sic] all of our funds. We spent all of our money on lottery tickets (expecting to win the 1.5 billion) and are now in dire need of cash. With your small donation of at least $1.00, a like, and one share, I’m certain that we will be able to pick ourselves up from the trenches of this lost [sic] and spend another fortune trying to hit it big again! PLEASE, won’t you help a family in need. DONATE NOW.

The rational among us might have expected her to have learned a lesson, but notice the words bolded by me.

As you might imagine, people were scathing, but– surprise– some donated until Go Fund Me took down her donations page. Now she claims it's all a joke, ha-ha. Thing is, I've personally known desperate people who empty their wallet at the local lottery store.

My friends Sharon and Cate, seldom at a loss for words, managed a few choice ones. Inspired by them, this little bit of flash fiction came to mind. Our colleague Vicki Kennedy tells me this form is called a ‘drabble’. Please don’t confuse our fictional Nutmeg with the real Cinnamon whom we prefer to believe is much classier.

The Gamble
by Leigh Lundin

After the lottery tops a stratospheric billion dollar pot, Nutmeg wagers her family’s rent and grocery money. To her surprise, she loses. Even her car’s repossessed. She visits the local charity, which shoos her out the door.

Matters go from bad to worse after she’s arrested for prostitution. Police visit charity officials.

“Miss Nutmeg claims you sent her to WalMart to peddle her ass.”

“For a job, sir. I told her to pedal her ass to WalMart.”


  1. And gambling in general is bad for the state, too, leading to dependence on what we in CT are finding can be an erratic source of revenue!

  2. Our Texas lottery was sold to pay for education. I'm sure you see the irony. If we produce better educated, the fewer who play the lottery and the less money comes in. It's a sick joke.

  3. Leigh, I never looked at the lottery as a tax on the poor, but it makes sense since most everything is tax related these days. I doubt most people look at driver’s licenses and license plates as taxes, but that’s what they are. I’ve never bought a lottery ticket in my life, never gone to a casino or anything like that. My father loved to gamble and I shudder to think how much money he wasted on the lottery. Like you said the lottery gives poor people a false hope that they will be miraculously saved from their poverty stricken lives. I have little sympathy with someone who would blow their rent and grocery money on such a useless venture. I’m with Cate and Sharon on the subject. Great drabble by the way!

  4. Janice, that’s an interesting point, that governments have their own gambling addiction. I’ve long suspected that once in place, it would prove nearly impossible to dismantle state lotteries. Both politicians and the poor would clamor to keep them in place.

    Anon, that is indeed true. When a friend said to me, “You know math, why don’t you play the lottery?” I answered, “Because I know math.” A well-known owner of a Vegas casino once said if any gambler played long enough, they’d go broke. Unfortunately, many people think the opposite.

    Vicki, thank you. A lot of psychology is involved to get people to play– the advertising, the ticket design, the constant promotions. It’s all very seductive.

  5. Since the local media show us wealthy folks playing the lottery as well, I have never looked at it as a tax on the poor. I also very rarely throw a couple of bucks at it. I know the odds are horrible, but for us any amount won would help.

    While it was sold to Texans as a way to help fund education, the state legislature started diverting the funds from education to the general coffers to artificially balance the budget a few years ago. They have a habit of diverting money from where it was supposed to go to the general coffers.

  6. Hi Kevin. Here in a bitter battle in Florida, the lottery was promoted to fund education. That year the state did sleight-of-hand to yank previously committed funds from education and drop them in the general fund. Copiers still went without paper, classroom went without supplies because what the state giveth, the state taketh away.

    Best to Sandi, Kevin.

  7. They did the same damn thing here with the same damn results. We also just recently learned that they did the same damn thing with TXDOT--the agency responsible for maintaining the roads--which has resulted in roads and bridges crumbling as maintenance has deferred due to lack of funds while contracts were given to outside companies to expand the toll road system.

    Thank you for thinking of and mentioning Sandi. Things are hard and the financial situation and the stress is taking a huge toll on both of us. Being ill is hard, but dealing with all the ramifications of that is just brutal.

  8. Indiana, the only state too embarrassed to put its name on its own lottery (Hoosier Lottery), has a long and sordid history of lotteries to fund roads and education. The first few failed 200 years ago. Either people had less money to waste or they knew more than we do now. The lottery became associated with corruption around the time of the Civil War.

    Looking at our present government, not much has changed. We’re doing better than our neighbors to the north, but not much. Funny how the panaceas to our problems never pan out.

  9. The fact is, the odds of winning with ONE lottery ticket are better than the odds of winning with NO tickets. I bought a few Powerball tickets recently just on the off chance of winning. Why not give myself a chance? A friend's parents won $5 million a few years back. Husband's uncle won $25K, ex-boss won $10K, which she spent remodeling her kitchen.

  10. I dislike lotteries too. But I think it's worthwhile to point out that your initial set of four premises won't sway anyone who buys into them. The problem is with your payout of 50 cents on the dollar to the winner. The winner gets a portion of ALL the money paid for ALL the tickets: one dollar ticket can reap one million dollars of win that way. (The problem is understanding odds. People like Cinnamon don't "get" the huge odds numbers so they don't realize that 800 tickets don't make any real difference over one ticket in terms of their chance to win.)

  11. Anon #2, yes, the promised panaceas never seem to pan out as promised. I was raised in Indiana and remember organized gambling and punch cards were taboo, but then so was usury, which was once banned, but is now protected by lobbyists. Oops, pardon, my cynicism is showing.

    Hi Elizabeth! Florida (and other states) ran ads saying if you don’t play, you can’t win, but you can’t lose either. To be sure, there can come a point when the payout exceeds $1 (i.e, the total paid out exceeds the purchased tickets), but most people never see that.

    Anon #3, I agree that I won’t dissuade anyone. I’ve tried with employees and tenants. They nod their heads and then run out and buy tickets. The lures are too powerful, the arguments too weak. To misquote Tennyson, “Tis better to have played and lost, than never to have played at all.”

    A lot of psychology is at work. A friend’s sisters swears she never loses, not ever, yet when I’ve been with her in a casino or lottery, I’ve never seen her win. The human brain tends to forget losses and remember only wins.

  12. Here in SD, we, too, were supposed to spend that lottery money on education. Then there was a giant sucking sound, followed by legislative amnesia, and the money goes into the general fund, where undoubtedly a lot of it's gone into people's pockets along with diverted grant money.

    Cinnamon, like many other people, cannot grasp the concept of odds: that every time you flip a coin, it's a 50-50 shot of heads or tails. And those odds don't change no matter how often you flip that coin.

    Meanwhile, let's not forget that the stock market is gambling for rich people - 99% of whom have insider knowledge and make money. By and large, the average person who "invests" his/her potential retirement money in stocks needs to pray long, hard, and often that s/he does not have to retire - or have a major catastrophe - when the stock market is in one of its semi-regular meltdowns. The odds are poor.

  13. Eve, I can almost hear your ‘giant sucking sound.’ It seems to be a universal complaint that legislators promise the ill-gotten revenue will advance education and then they see to it that doesn’t happen. Lottery… Wall Street… the odds are stacked against the little guy.

  14. Enjoyed your dabbling in drabbling.

    Whatever the odds, I’d still buy one ticket – ju-u-u-u-st in case. (grin)

  15. I understand, ABA. (grin) Especially when the pot reaches $1.6-billion.

  16. It is amazing that 70% lose everything and file bankruptcy or are killed for their winnings.
    They say it is tantamount to the Overpaid “Sudden” wealth of the Sports Players, same scenario.
    One person wrote an article that taking the last billion + and dividing it up among the general population would eradicate poverty. It would not, as we all know poverty is a state of mind it is not how much money you have or were given. Most people, sad to say, have a poverty mindset. You give them boo coo bucks and in a short period of time they are unhappy and broke.

  17. Not only is the 70 percent figure wrong, but the math was not correct on the stupid meme that floated around on FB about the last billion. When the math was done correctly, it worked out that everyone would receive $4.33. Obviously, that does not solve the poverty problem.

    A "poverty mindset" is also pretty much debunked social theory nonsense. What often happens in these cases, much like many athletes, is that they can finally have whatever they ever wanted. They don't realize the money is going to run out if they spend like crazy. They do and it does.

    We have a very specific plan if we are ever so lucky as to win any meaningful amount. It is to pay the medical bills, buy a small three or four bedroom house that is disabled friendly, and pay back everyone who has ever donated to us these last four years. No new cars, no travel, no splurging. Just living comfortably without being afraid of being homeless and the collectors calling day and night. Just some peace and not having to worry would be nice.

  18. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I used to be a regular Thunderball lotto player. Luckily I gave up this waste of time and money.

  19. There is no justice in this world. But we have a choice: play the lottery or not. And that's enough! Lottery is a dream!

  20. I really enjoyed your story, Leigh. But, isn't that a job too????

    Ok, just kidding. Don't throw things.

  21. Unknown, good for you!

    WLR… great handle! I think math may have inoculated me against gambling or at least I don’t find pleasure in it. But I know others do and, as long as they’re not like our Nutmeg (or Cinnamon) and deprive their families, then it’s not for me to criticize.

    Dixon, I’m not sure if that would be a job or a chore.

    Everyone, thanks for playing!

  22. Seems the author has a bias against wealthy entrepreneurs that the government is not socking it to them with huge taxes? He is not alone. Many people think that the rich are able to weasel their way out of taxes, but they actually pay an overwhelming majority of the taxes in the United States.
    by Michael Snyder
    If you wanted to truly “tax the rich”, you would need to completely throw out our current tax system and come up with something completely and totally different.And actually, when you get right down to it, an income tax is not even needed to run our country.  Until 1913 the United States did just fine without a federal income tax.But Americans have gotten it into their heads that the government should be some kind of cosmic Robin Hood that takes money from the rich and distributes it to the poor.
    When factoring in state and local taxes, the top 10% pay just under half the tab. And when calculating tax burden as a percent of income, the tax code is even less progressive. The top 10% paid an average of 30% of their income in local, state, and federal taxes in 2011, said McIntyre. That's not much different than the 25% percent paid by the middle class.The American people need jobs and they need the chance to be able to start businesses and compete fairly in the marketplace. But instead, a huge percentage of the population has just given up and have become content with receiving government handouts. You see, the truth is that most Americans now receive a government payout in one form or another and they have become very accustomed to that money. People do not want to see their “government benefits” cut.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>