The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Jan. 18, 2003.)

There's nothing more stimulating to the brain than getting mad. I'm easily angered (grade school English teachers correct me when I use "mad" for "angry") and there are so many things in the world to get mad about that my brain is seldom at ease.

Nothing so regularly angers me as much as stories about lottery winners. There were big headlines recently about the man in West Virginia, Andrew Whittaker, who won $315 million.

There ought to be a law forbidding newspapers, radio or television stations from reporting the name of a lottery winner unless, at the same time, they listed the name of every single loser. The names of everyone who bought a losing ticket for the same lottery won by Mr. Whittaker would not fit in all the pages of any newspaper. Governments are empowered to do for people what people are not able to do for themselves. They should protect idiots from their natural inclination to take chances with astronomically high odds.

If you wonder who buys lottery tickets, look at the people who line up to buy them. They're invariably the poorest, least-educated, most unemployed among us. Some people on welfare wait for their checks, not to buy groceries but to buy lottery tickets. I feel sorry for them, but I also think we should help them by making it impossible for them to waste their money -- and ours -- on lottery tickets.

This all came to me this morning, driving to work, when I heard a radio commercial imploring people to buy tickets for the New York State lottery. When I got to the office, I set out to find how much the state spends on commercials like the one I heard. Last year, the state spent $24 million on lottery advertising. Am I the only one outraged to find that the state is spending that kind of money inducing its citizens to participate in so stupid a thing as buying lottery tickets?

Originally, proponents of a state-operated lottery said that people were going to gamble whether it was legal or not. The mob bosses were already making a fortune on the illegal numbers racket. They argued that as long as people were going to gamble anyway, the state, not the mob bosses, should profit from it.

If people were going to gamble anyway, how come the state has to spend $24 million a year talking them into it with advertising? State officials promised to do all sorts of good things for education with lottery money. Have you noticed a big improvement in our schools because of all the lottery money pouring in?

Gambling is a national sickness that has become epidemic in the last 25 years. Thirty-seven states now have lotteries and 29 allow casinos. It wasn't long ago that gambling was restricted to a few places like Las Vegas. Atlantic City, a once prosperous seashore resort, somehow lost its luster, went broke and talked New Jersey into letting it open an East Coast gambling operation to compete with Las Vegas. Then some smart operators, preying on the guilt feeling we have as a nation about the desperate condition of Indians in our country, opened "Indian" casinos, most of which are about as Indian as I am.

Lotteries are immoral and stupid. They produce nothing. They transfer money from the dumb poor to the smart rich. It undermines the American work ethic of which we're so proud. It suggests that anyone can be successful and live handsomely without working for it. All he or she has to do is guess the right number and retire for life.

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