Bruce LaRue: A poorly thought-out gift

Published 9:33 am Tuesday, December 2, 2014


The Christmas season is upon us once again. Pretty lights will shine, decorations will go up, parades will take place, all of the charming Christmas traditions that bring us comfort and joy. Soon Christmas trees will occupy their places of honor in living rooms across America, and the smell of baked goodies and divinity will permeate kitchens everywhere. Families will come together to exchange gifts, some cherished, others ignored or discarded. Stockings will be hung by the chimney with care, to be filled with delightful treats and trinkets. It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year. It is also a time during which the economy typically gets a little shot in the arm from all of the gift-giving which is a deeply ingrained part of our culture.

Among the gift ideas for this season of giving is an item that is, at the very least, non-traditional and, at worst, tacky and bizarre. The North Carolina Education Lottery offers five holiday-themed scratch-off tickets, including one called Millionaire Jingle Bucks, for those special or difficult-to-buy-for people in your life. For a measly ten dollars you can give someone a 1 in 640,000 chance of winning a million dollars, a 1 in 3.32 chance of winning ten dollars or more, and a 2 in 3 chance of ending up with a pretty bit of card stock, useful as a coaster or bicycle wheel-spoke clicker, but little else. Moreover, this gift cannot be re-gifted or exchanged for one that fits better or is otherwise more desirable or at least suitable. Admittedly, it is likely that people will buy more of these tickets for themselves than for others. Human nature and all that.

Obviously the only gray matter used in this process is the substance that must be removed in order to reveal the dollar value of the bit of card stock, usually zero. It seems clear that not much good can come of this, except for the lottery. What happens when the bit of card stock is worth a million dollars? How long will it take for “more blessed to give than receive” to be replaced by “where’s my cut”? Even if the recipient is receptive to the idea of sharing the good fortune, might there be some bickering over what percentage is “fair”? Arguments over money have caused many a breakup of the family. Attorneys throughout the state may want to man the phones on the days immediately following Christmas.

Let us say that Sid and Roxie Q. Citizen awaken on Christmas morning, prepare a couple of cups of eggnog or coffee laced with some distilled spirits, and then make their way into the living room where warm, comforting flames dance among the gas logs. As they begin passing around the gifts from under the tree, removing the beautiful wrapping paper and opening boxes, one gift causes them to pause and look at each other quizzically. Lottery tickets? Really? Somebody gave us lottery tickets?

One cannot help but be a little cynical about this sales campaign as it is carried out by the N.C. Education Lottery. The lottery is little more than a self-imposed, voluntary tax on the poor, with a scandalously low percentage of receipts actually reaching the trenches where it is needed. One of the reasons that more of the proceeds do not make it to the classroom is a clause that allows the state government to divert some of the funds away from education as deemed necessary. As devious as this bunch is, would it be that much of a stretch to believe that the lottery is trying to drum up new customers, the strategy being that if people who normally would not dream of wasting their money on lottery tickets receive some as gifts, then they may be compelled to buy more?

Sid and Roxie did not bother to remove the gray matter from their bits of card stock. Instead, they took them outside and burned them. A neighbor who was throwing away some wrapping paper watched the goings-on and asked the Citizens if they were concerned that one of the tickets might be worth a million dollars. Sid and Roxie smiled.

“Yep. Merry Christmas.”


Bruce La Rue lives in Mount Ulla.