TRANSLATION: MEMPHIS: Looking at the Lottery 

When I was a kid, back in New Jersey, I was always entranced by the lottery.

No, I didn’t gamble. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve tossed my money into the winds of chance, hope, and government sponsored “luck.”

But there was something about the way those numbered balls floated above their fans. Vanna-esque women, with a swoop of the hand, would press a button and voila! Suddenly the fated numbers of pick-3, 5, or 6 would be determined, and people all across the state would look hard at their tickets, ecstatic or more likely, chagrined.

How fast the golden ticket can become tarnished.

For me, though, it was all about watching how something completely random can create value. Floating numbers in the cosmos of chance that land and become something much more concrete.

The opportunity to win or lose.

It is with those images in mind that I have observed the amazing controversy over the proposed legalization of a lottery in Tennessee.

I’m not going to voice my opinion one way or the other, largely because I’m somewhat undecided on the issue, and also because I have no vested interest in attempting to sway you one way or the other.

However, I would like to comment on the structure of the debate as I’ve seen it go on around me for the last several weeks.

One of the major complaints that many disenfranchised voters express about the candidate races is that they are presented with little, if any, concrete information in. In exchange, they are presented with a lot of mudslinging and he said, she said bickering.

When personalities are involved, I suppose that’s inevitable.

But when it comes to a decision on the lottery issue, it seems to me that a bit more depth would be appropriate, pro or con.

On the one hand we’ve seen the largely church-driven opposition, decrying the lottery on the basis of its immorality. On the other hand we have the pro-lottery advocates, led by Senator Steve Cohen, who penned the debated amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would make the lottery a possibility.

At heart, there are some concrete peripheral issues that should have made this debate both lively and thought provoking.

As far as I have seen this has not happened.

While the faith-based contention that God would not vote for a lottery is interesting, and certainly valid for those who follow the particular God being referenced, it isn’t enough in a free society to justify the stance that the lottery would be wrong for everybody.

Similarly, Cohen’s repeated retort that to not support the lottery is “crazy” lacks a bit in the depth of argument department. To be completely honest, I also find that language to be a little bit irresponsible.

What we’ve ended up with here is a public debate of “God says no,” versus “you’re crazy not to say yes,” which has left the voter with less time to chew on the actual implications of voting no or yes, and more time to ponder their faith or sanity. I don’t expect everybody to agree with me here, but both considerations sort of miss the point.

How about analyzing whether we have any good alternatives to acquiring the funding for education that the lottery might provide? Or, alternately, why not spend one’s debate time considering the economic status of the proposed lottery’s players, and the impact that it might have upon them?

Both of these points have been raised at one point or another, but it seems that too much of the public dialogue on the matter has been a bit lacking in depth.

For those of you who are reading this on Wednesday, the debate has already been settled, at least for now

Let’s hope, though, that the acquisition of the information used to make that choice was not, itself, a game of chance.

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