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LJ Idol X - Week [26] - The Lucky Ones

The main ballroom at the Pecunio Hotel was locked down, tight with security, almost as if a foreign dignitary was in attendance. In a way, someone just as important was in the building. For this special meeting of directors of all forty-six state lotteries from across the country, a chance to have some face time with the person responsible for turning the biggest profits for their games could be worth, literally, millions.

All cell phones and recording devices were confiscated as attendees exited the elevators on the hotel’s second floor lobby, locked in a strongbox for the duration of the session. All paperwork had to be supplied, including identification and position with their respective lottery commissions. Only two attendees per state were permitted to attend, meaning the ballroom itself, capable of handling parties of three thousand or more, would dwarf the people in it. But there was a full kitchen staff, tables and chairs, an open bar with champagne service and hotel staffers, ready to serve, in chair massages by attentive masseurs and massuses and a twelve-piece band playing background music as guests selected their menu items and found their seats.

Down the hall, in a private room, Seth Appleman smiled at himself in the mirror, paused, then really smiled. He flipped through his four by six cards one more time. Though he knew that some states had issues with people crossing the border to play another state’s lottery games, at heart, this really wasn’t a “competition.” All of the people in that room were working for the same goal. Sharing these secrets would, in fact, help everybody.

Appleman exited and made the slow stroll down to the ballroom, where most of the folks that ran their lotteries were already snacking, chatting, comparing notes. Appleman wasn’t about to eat anything but he was surely ready to dole out some food for thought.

He eyed the room, noting who was seated where. Lottery commissioners from neighboring states sometimes sat near each other, as was the case for Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, all of whom were beneficiaries of players crossing their borders from Alabama, a state with no lottery. Meanwhile, New York and New Jersey’s lottery chiefs were on the opposite side of the room, and that couldn’t have been a coincidence. Florida, New York and California were the most profitable lotteries, but even the states doing well could use some improvement.

Should he decide to enter early, work the room, feel out the atmosphere, Seth wondered? No. That wasn’t necessary. Everybody showed up, including a contingent from Nevada, notorious for NOT having a state lottery, specifically because it could potentially cut into the gaming for Las Vegas and Reno. Still, sending a representative to listen in proves that his words carried weight. Who knows? Maybe they would finally start a Nevada Lottery, based on his speech.

“Best to let them enjoy their time and digest their food before the pitch,” he thought, aloud.

Seth’s phone vibrated right over his heart, in his inside jacket pocket.

“Mr. Appleman, we’re ready for you whenever you’re ready,” said the staffer.

“Thank you, that’s fine,” he replied, walking back to his private sanctum. “Give them twenty more minutes, then cue my introduction.”

After enough Foie Gras, Prime Rib, Lobster Thermidor and Chocolate Truffle Cake was served and enough bottles of Dom Perignon were poured, it was time.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, would you please welcome the Keynote Speaker for this gathering, Mr. Seth Appleman!”

A standing ovation greeted Mr. Appleman as he stepped up to the podium, during which, all of the hotel employees quietly left the room, held by a security team outside of every exit.

“Good evening, and thank you for your presence here.” Seth smiled. “You know what? Let me tell you something some of you maybe have forgotten, or maybe a few of you never knew.” Seth paused to make sure every eye in the place was on him. “You and I? We are the lucky ones.”

Spontaneous applause erupted.

“We get to change the lives of people every day. We change the economic status of citizens in a way that they never could have imagined.” Seth paused and nodded at the crowd. “That is how this works. This is what we do!” Seth shouted over the rising applause, then held until the room fell silent.

“And we want to continue to change people’s lives.” Appleman said in a sobering tone. “We want to keep it up. But the only way we can do that is if WE, you and I, are keeping up. Tonight, I will share with you a three-tiered process for how to make your lottery even more profitable. I hope you are good at taking notes because none of this can be put on video or audio. This is your chance to tweak the games you offer in ways that will provide more excitement for players and much more success for you.”

“Let’s begin with the big money games,” Seth stated, pressing a remote and flipping on the HDTVs behind him. “SuperLarge Lotto and GinormousPayday.” On the screens, a picture of the lotto fields showed the selections. “SL Lotto has been noted for its five of forty-nine configuration, plus the Super Large Ball out of 35 numbers,” Appleman began. “But we’re looking to change that.” He pressed the remote again and a new screen appeared. “We are going to a five of eighty configuration, with a Super Large Ball field of fifty.” And we’re taking the GinormousPayday and adjusting it to a field of five out of sixty numbers with a Ginormous Ball out of a field of 40, but the cost of a ticket will go from one to two dollars.

There were some gasps in the audience.

“Here’s why you’ll love this new set up,” Seth quickly added. “The Jackpots are going to start larger and will go up much faster. Before the base level jackpot began at forty million dollars. Now, every Jackpot will begin at sixty million, and can potentially go up to one billion dollars in as little as six weeks. Imagine that!”

“Excuse me,” shouted an audience member. “But how are we getting ‘more profitable’ if we’re giving out billion with a ‘b’ jackpots?”

“I’m delighted you asked,” Seth smiled. “I was just coming to that, in fact. Look at this next screen.”

A grid with the odds of winning each prize level came up, next to a grid with the payouts for each winning level came up. “You’ll notice,” Seth continued, “That if you matched the five numbers with no Super Large Ball, the prize you earned is one million dollars, even though the odds of winning that prize are about five million to one. Four numbers with the Super Large Ball is a hundred thousand, even though those odds are about a half million to one. and so on down the line. For these higher prizes, we are cutting the payout in half, so you receive five hundred thousand now for the second prize and fifty thousand for the third prize.”

“But wait!” shouted another commissioner. “People are going to be angry that the payouts are changing! The odds of winning are nowhere near the prize being payed.”

“That is to your advantage,” Seth interjected. “We know that people don’t focus on these lower tiered prizes. In fact, some occasional players don’t even realize there ARE lower prizes! I know of several games that didn’t pay out several million because tickets were not cashed. But, if there is a complaint about not as much money going to players, that’s where we hit them with the second element,” Seth segued. “The benefits to local schools.” He called up another screen with the words ‘SCHOLASTIC BENEFIT’ in block letters. “Here, we promote the fact that every lottery ticket is a donation to their local public schools.”

A video montage of children writing at their desks in a classroom, examining a globe at the Teacher’s desk, wearing school uniforms to class and athletic uniforms in gym, and graduating in caps and gowns plays on the screens. “We will make sure we have presentations of checks for thousands of dollars to various schools in each of your regions all as part of the great work your lotteries will be doing for the school systems.”

“Excuse me, but doesn’t whatever funding you give to a school get deducted from their tax budget?” A voice asked. “That’s no benefit at all.”

“Could the person who just spoke stand up?” Seth held a hand above his brow and scanned the room.

“This person said it,” The vice chair of the Massachusetts Lottery pointed at a man in a ill-fitting suit and thick glasses.

The accused person stared in. “This all works out as a tax break for the Lotteries, but doesn’t actually do anything for any school system, doesn’t it, Mr. Appleman?”

“Excuse me but which Lottery are you with?”

“I’m with the Mississippi Lottery Commission.”

“No you are not. There is no Mississippi Lottery Commission and Mississippi has never expressed an interest in lotteries.”

The gent made a dash for the exits, but Mr. Appleman pressed a button and three security guards gang tackled him, then carried him out of the room. “The signal in this room was dampened, but make sure he wasn’t attempting to use a streaming service when you search him!” he called to the team as they hauled him out.

“I’m sorry about the unpleasantness,” Seth continued. “But progress does have a few bumps on the road.”

“You said there would be a three-tiered approach,” came another call.

“And the final element will be the new advertising campaigns,” Seth called back. “We will be targeting the people who really want a change to come in their lives: people who have a real desire for incredible wealth to come to them.”

Mr. Appleman flipped the screen again and showed a lineup of potential advertising outlets.

“We’re going to run lottery commercials and result draws during the “Hangman” game show, a favorite among our sixty-five plus target markets, and we’ll be putting billboards up in specific neighborhoods, reminding people that the potential way out of their current lives is just as close and convenient as their bodegas or their neighborhood liquor store!”

Warm applause.

“Here’s your bottom line,” Seth smiled. “The idea is to make your lottery a stand-alone proposition.” He paused to let the concept hang in the air for a moment. “The goal is to have your lottery paying out…” Seth pressed the remote, and every screen displayed


Some gasps again, followed by more thunderous applause.

“We can make this happen. It’s just a matter of finding the appeal, working the angles and the elements to present the best opportunity for players to enjoy, and raising the excitement level to a place where your players provide the capital to pay the winners, and to help fund the systems that support schoolchildren in every state, except those that don’t have a lottery!”

Seth Appleman looked at the assembled multitude, the dream makers, standing and applauding him, all ready to grant wishes for those that really wanted them. He took a moment to let the adulation wash over him. Success is what you make it, and these people were all making it.

Everyone here is one of the lucky ones, Seth thought to himself, but I am the luckiest of all.


This fictionalized story, based on factual information, was written for LJ Idol using the prompt The Goal Is Zero


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 2nd, 2017 09:12 pm (UTC)
This just made me feel dirty. I know the lottery is a racket (my parents buy tickets every week), but this makes it sound so much worse. Congratulations for pulling that off.

Oh, and Hangman sounds like exactly the kind of show that old people would watch.
Aug. 3rd, 2017 01:11 am (UTC)
I had done a piece on what lotteries do and how they do it some years ago. But it has gotten so much worse, now! It's breathtaking how money taking these lottery games have become. I fictionalized elements including the name of that game show - "Hangman..." which one might refer to as a letter choosing competition where people spin a wheel to attempt to win a fortune.
Aug. 3rd, 2017 01:13 am (UTC)

Ooo, seconded!

Aug. 5th, 2017 12:26 am (UTC)
Thanks for looking and for relating!
Aug. 3rd, 2017 07:21 am (UTC)
*shivers* I had a feeling that as soon as the word 'lottery' was mentioned, that this would really showcase the seedy underbelly of the whole system.

Nicely done.
Aug. 5th, 2017 12:28 am (UTC)
Thanks very much. I did a research piece on how lotteries steal your money years ago and the system has gotten so much worse since that piece, I wanted to do a fictionalized version about it. Most lottery games are ripoffs in that they don't pay you a proper amount based on the odds of winning. Even Vegas doesn't do that!
Aug. 3rd, 2017 02:39 pm (UTC)
This is so well done, with the statistical base of lotteries laid bare: the odds always favor the house. By increasing the odds to cover the payment in prizes, the lotteries "win" far more than the players. This was a great use of the prompt.
Aug. 5th, 2017 12:30 am (UTC)
Thanks so much. Lotteries always make it seem like they're benefiting their communities and giving people the chance to "have fun" and maybe "win some money," but the facts are far more horrific, especially for the people who can least afford to lose money.
Aug. 4th, 2017 03:38 am (UTC)
And so it goes with all gambling. We had quite a scandal here a while back where the vendors and their employees were stealing winning tickets. There don't seem to be any upsides. Brava!
Aug. 5th, 2017 12:32 am (UTC)
Lotteries are like a casino only one that never pays the amount you deserve for beating the odds. I'm sure the only reason there haven't been more scandals like the one you mentioned is that Lotteries watch their vendors like hawks -- rather like the pit boss watching the dealers. Thanks so much for a lovely compliment!
Aug. 4th, 2017 11:51 am (UTC)
This is a well-drawn portrait of a snake-oil salesman. His speech making about making people's lives better was such an upside-down Bizarro-world experience.
Aug. 5th, 2017 12:35 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading and for relating the viewpoint - I'm certain that in order for some of these lottery directors to live with themselves, they use this kind of psychology to justify everything that happens with their games. After all, nobody is "forcing" anyone to play. But the idea that millions of dollars is out there, and somebody is probably going to win it is a lure that people who need the money the most often can't ignore. It's the call of the sirens and a rocky end usually awaits.
Aug. 4th, 2017 03:38 pm (UTC)
GREAT job portraying sleaze! This was a really detailed look into the icky shadows...and yet...I honestly think it doesn't matter a whit to those who are compelled, driven by the idea of instant riches...
Aug. 5th, 2017 12:38 am (UTC)
I'm sure that people don't think about the down side or about the very long odds of winning (I think some of these games, the odds of getting struck by lightning twice is more likely). The point is someone usually wins and you need to have a ticket to have a chance.

Thanks for reading and a wonderful compliment!
Aug. 4th, 2017 08:21 pm (UTC)
Funny. The lottery has always been a con game. Love this use of the prompt.
Aug. 5th, 2017 12:41 am (UTC)
The lottery absolutely has always been a con game but it has become something of a science now! It's really stomach turning how they manipulate the odds and reduce the prizes so that you never get an "honest" payout. Thanks so much for reading and your great comment!
Aug. 4th, 2017 08:29 pm (UTC)
Ouch! I can so easily see this happening.

because none of this can be put on video or audio.
The first bad sign right there.

What's so horrifying is that this works. California increased the range of numbers in the draw to increase their jackpots... while most people didn't notice at all that the odds of winning had become even closer to "impossible" for any given person.

And yes, they DO prey on lower-income people. Those are the people that need and want the dream, but also the ones who can least afford to be slowly bled by the lottery system. :(
Aug. 5th, 2017 12:45 am (UTC)
It's been an eye opening experience examining just how lotteries work. They prey on people who need cash - after all, people who have money aren't playing the lottery! And they provide little, if any, help to communities. It's an unconscionable situation, the worst kind of casino, and so easy to spend that money because outlets to play are everywhere. How lotteries dodged the whole gambling issue is a mystery to me, but it definitely is changing lives, nearly all for the worse.

Thanks for reading and for commenting.
Aug. 4th, 2017 08:53 pm (UTC)
This is such a great look at the underside of the lottery system. I love the scene you painted, with all the secrecy and kicking the one imposter out. That all just set the vibe really well of these people in their working on their nefarious schemes.

Aug. 5th, 2017 12:48 am (UTC)
I think that lotteries always want to present themselves as legitimate, as a fun thing, as a chance to help people, as something beneficial. Pretty much none of that is true. It's a vile practice and it seems that every year they find a way to make it just a little bit worse.

Thanks very much for a wonderful compliment and for your thoughts about this difficult topic.
Aug. 4th, 2017 11:34 pm (UTC)
Yuck!! I rarely buy lottery tickets because it feels like such a waste of money, racket. I had a co-worker who spent $200 EVERY paycheck, twice a month, on lotto tickets. She won occasionally, but like, small amounts, maybe 1K when she was really lucky. She was already poor and just throwing her money away. But, she always commented "You can't win if you don't play!"

Edited at 2017-08-04 11:36 pm (UTC)
Aug. 5th, 2017 12:52 am (UTC)
Sadly, that's a very typical tale... most people are trying to win that "life changing money," not thinking about how the odds range in the 200 Million to 1 area! The sad facts are the payouts for these games are completely out of whack from the odds of winning... and to me, that's the secret tragedy. Even when you win, you lose because the lottery set up the payout to be half, a quarter, an eighth of what it should have been!

Thanks for reading along and sharing a thought.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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