First, a little background:
Playing the lottery is an interesting thing to me.
I used to work summers at a local grocery store where I sold lottery tickets, among other duties, and I always found it interesting to watch people, especially their emotions, as they purchased and scratched off lottery tickets. Scratch-off tickets provide a clear window into a whole range of human emotions, one right after another. The numbers games also show these emotions, though in a more extended time frame, as one has to wait several hours or days for the winning numbers to be revealed. And while playing the numbers is perhaps more emotionally damaging (because one has more time to connect to the ticket itself and speculate about being the winner), scratch-off tickets show a more immediate reversal of emotion and offer more for a casual observer like me, who is just trying to figure people out.
There is so much extreme emotion associated with the lottery: complete assuredness that THIS ONE is the mega winner followed by ecstasy and speculations on how the winnings will be spent, which immediately reverses to despair upon actually scratching off the ticket. This emotional reversal very often leads to an immediate discard of the ticket itself, wherever it may fall: on the bus, sidewalk, parking lot, train, or very often right outside—or even inside—the place of purchase. It immediately becomes worthless, even disdainful, a vile thing to expel as quickly as possible. Many people fold them up, tear them in half, or even shred them before throwing them on the ground.
After watching people scratch off lottery tickets for two summers, it’s very easy to see how gambling addiction gets started. You buy a ticket, experience the thrill of being a winner and spend all the money in your mind, scratch off the ticket, and are immediately brought back to the reality that you just wasted $10. And you’re so down, you need to buy another lottery ticket to get that high back again.
And now onto the litter part:
I walk a lot: to and from the grocery store, to the bus stop, to the subway, around the city, just about everywhere. And the amount of discarded lottery tickets that end up as litter is staggering. I mean really staggering. Once I noticed it, I saw them everywhere, like at least one every few steps on the sidewalk.
And then I began collecting them. My rule was that I had to pick up every lottery ticket I saw in my path. My eventual goal was to create something artistic from them to exemplify the manipulation, extreme emotional reversals, emptiness, and falseness that result from playing the lottery.
But something else happened too. I quickly realized that there were so many lottery tickets littering public spaces that I would have more than enough for my project within a few days. I mentioned earlier that the amount of tickets strewn about my neighborhood is staggering. Here’s an example. Husband and I would take a short walk (about ¾ mile) to the grocery store, and we would collect about $400 worth of discarded tickets, without ever having to leave the sidewalk. And this was just the way there. By the time we shopped and headed home, there were fresh tickets already littering the very sidewalks we had just cleared. And this was every week. I quickly learned that with any routine trip, I would gather about $300-400 worth of tickets, though it was gradually less as I continued to collect them, as I would often end up gathering them faster than they would accumulate. I began actually logging my day’s collections in my journal: how many tickets I picked up, how many of each cost bracket, the total cost of the tickets I picked up for that day, and the cumulative total cost of tickets gathered so far.
It quickly became more tickets than I ever thought I’d pick up. I gathered them for about a month, then I just couldn’t do it anymore. I gathered more than $2000 worth of lottery tickets, all wasted money, and I just couldn’t look at them anymore. Also, I was pretty sure I had more than enough tickets to make whatever I was going to make out of them.
I quickly began to be disheartened by what I saw, day after day. Among poorer areas I walked, I found more tickets. Among places where people were less educated, I found more tickets. Among places where people were more educated, I found less tickets. Among places where people had more money, I found less tickets. Were these people rich enough to not need the lottery? Smart enough to know it’s a scam? Conscious enough to throw their tickets away rather than toss them on the sidewalk? Well-off enough to not have to walk or take public transport? Are their cars full of discarded lottery tickets? I don’t know. And while all of those things are possible, I doubt they’re more probable than my guess that people who can least afford to waste their precious money buy (and discard) the most lottery tickets.
This lead me to not only feel that making my artistic statement about the lottery is super important, but also to feel very angry that the lottery sort of targets poorer, less-educated people.
I made a sculpture, “False Hope” as my statement. A statement that while playing the lottery feels exciting, welcoming, and thrilling, it only leads to emptiness. And upon closer examination, the lottery structure is unsound deceptive and exploitive, the thrill turns to despair, the foundation is weak, and the price tag is immense.
But I’m still angry. I’m thinking about continuing to gather tickets and mailing my weekly findings to the Massachusetts Department of Whoever-does-the-lottery (State Lottery Commission?) to build awareness of this massive litter problem.
And in the mean time, I’m trying to come to terms with what in my mind now equates to a tax on being poor and less educated. It’s billed as helping local communities, but at who’s expense?
Anyone else now noticing discarded lottery tickets everywhere?