Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Shirley Jackson Ain't Got Nothin' on Me...

The time has come to talk about the lottery.

In my job, I sell hundreds of dollars in lottery tickets every day.  Everyone wants to be a winner.  Even scarier, everyone EXPECTS to be a winner.  Some people even get mad when they lose, as if the universe owed them a payout for past trauma.

I've had two jobs where I sold lotto, and in both of them, I've noticed serious baggage about luck.  When I was 17 I worked at the BP gas station in a nearby small town.  I was hired to stock the cooler.  I spent four hours a day organizing pallets and making sure the beer was cold and the gatorade was in order.  I felt super important.  And after a few months of that, I began working the register.

The first time I ever walked away from a transaction it involved lotto.  We had a guy who came in and got multiple quick picks on separate tickets.  For those not in-the-know, quick picks let the machine pick numbers for you.  They're random, or so the lotto people say.  But we'll get to conspiracy theories in a moment.  So this guy is convinced that in order for him to win, you have to dole out the quick picks in a specific rhythm.  No, I'm not joking.  I still remember him shouting, "Hit.  Hit.  Hit hit hit.  Hit."  And I was terrified and confused and he was getting frustrated and I just threw my hands up and said, "Look.  I'm done with you."  He learned not to pressure me after that.  In fact, he stopped trying that strategy altogether.

Strategy.  Let me tell you something.  For every person who plays lotto, there's a different strategy.

I once had an African-American man shunt me aside and say, "This ain't for you!"  Then he proceeded to tell my African-American coworker his lotto secrets.  You have to play pick three.  You have to play it dollar straight.  Dollar box.  Separate tickets.  Straight means that if the three numbers hit in the order in which you picked them, you win.  Box means if they come up in any order you win.  The payout is smaller, but you still win.  And he was convinced that it was, as he said, "a black-folk secret."

And it's something I've noticed is actually a fairly consistent way that African-American players buy tickets.  White people buy StraightBox, which is if it hits in either way, you get a payout.  It's smaller still than box play.

But everyone plays scratch off tickets differently.

Oh my gosh.  Do they.

One person wants all the first tickets off the rolls of instant lotto tickets.  One person swears the first ticket is never a winner.

One only buys even numbered tickets.  One buys exclusively odd numbered tickets.  Swears they are luckier.  And if they're in an odd numbered slot in my lotto rack, they're even luckier.


Or when it is.  A guy comes in and buys only tickets that are the same number as the calendar day.  I asked him once, "So yesterday you wouldn't have bought this ticket?  Despite the fact that its the same ticket it was yesterday?"  And he looked at my like I was the stupid one.  "You don't understand how this works," he said.

Ummm.  Okay.

Some people ask about what number every ticket is on.  Then they get offended if you ask what they are looking for.

They won't buy tickets from an cashier but me because I bring them luck.  Despite the fact that they pick the tickets.  And if they lose?  It's my fault.  I don't ever sell them winners.  They won't scratch them at the counter, only in the car.  They won't leave without scratching them at the counter.  They only buy two at a time.  They only buy one.  They play the $30 tickets because that's the only way to win.  They don't spend more than a dollar because that's how you come out ahead.

They swear their grandpa played the same way and won all the time.  Or their aunt.  Or sister.  Or whatever.  And then they mock other strategies.  As if they've got this all figured out.  Because OF COURSE.  They're clearly swimming in money.

Because it's not random.  How could it be random?  They scoff when you say it's random.  Randomness is the enemy of having it ALL FIGURED OUT.  They all do.  It's a science.  Clearly.

I'm not against lotto.  I don't think it's a scam or a conspiracy or it's rigged.  One guy tried to tell me the nightly drawings with the balls in the air machine were fake, since it couldn't blow them around AND pick one at random.  PHYSICS.  AIR MOVEMENT.  But randomness is RANDOM.  You can't outwit it.  You can't outsmart it.  Science has been trying for a very long time.  And if someone had it figured out, don't you think that lotto as an institution would be over?

Or that lotto would send out their assassins to stop your lifetime payout?  Because you know they have them, right?  They must.  How else would they keep the secrets?  Why else would people be so scared to talk about their strategies?

In that case, I sincerely hope they don't win.  For their sake.


1 comment:

Geoff said...

I bought a lotto ticket in the late 80s, when it was new in Florida. I paid a dollar and won two. Quit while I was ahead.