Who wants to live in a house of cards?

Nor'wester (Springdale) - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky

It’s Septem­ber, the gam­bling jug­ger­naut has fi­nally left the Goulds, the cool bite of fall air hangs in the bright morn­ing sun, and the wind brings a heavy, con­stant smell of cooked turnip from the in­dus­trial park hos­pi­tal kitchen. And now, can we sit down and have a se­ri­ous talk about Chase the Ace?

Dur­ing the hype, there wasn’t any real way to say this with­out sound­ing like a grumpy old killjoy, but maybe it’s time to make the draw in the Goulds the last one, and stop the whole thing. No more aces, no more chases. Why?

Well, a bunch of rea­sons. First off, as fundrais­ers go, it’s a hit-or-miss prospect. If you’re us­ing it to fund a fixed, planned ex­pen­di­ture, it’s a lit­tle like fir­ing a shot­gun into a spruce thicket and hop­ing for rab­bits. You might get sev­eral, you might get noth­ing. Just about the only guar­an­tee is that, if there’s any­thing there and you hit it, you’ll get a share. It’s like 50/50 draws in that re­spect; as long as your draw is staffed by vol­un­teers, you’ll get a con­stant skim of some­thing.

Will you reach your goal? Maybe. And if you don’t, if the ace is drawn too soon, it’s back to the draw­ing board.

Still, the draws have be­come con­stant. Head out Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial High­way to­wards Car­bon­ear, and you’ll run into a ragged pa­rade of road­side signs nailed to the guardrail posts. They ad­ver­tise a Chase the Ace in Har­bour Grace that may be long over; I don’t know, but the signs live on. Any num­ber of light-up signs in front of rural con­ve­nience stores ad­ver­tise the tick­ets, with­out ever ex­plain­ing the tongue-in-cheek com­edy of it all: if you’re lucky enough to win a draw in a mas­sive game of chance, you win … a draw in a smaller game of chance. Hur­ray!

Turn­ing it into a play-by-play event, with breath­less re­port­ing on the length of lines and the risk of tick­ets run­ning out, we were bark­ers for the car­ni­val sideshow.

But back to the Goulds, and the $2.6 mil­lion draw that ended up packing a small town so tight with peo­ple that it looked like it came close to burst­ing.

Through­out the process, I talked to or­di­nary peo­ple who found fist­fuls of cash to buy fist­fuls of tick­ets. The draw has been the talk of of­fices and gro­cery stores, the con­stant drip­drip-drip of tele­vi­sion and ra­dio an­chor ban­ter. Did you get your ticket? Did you? Did you?

Did peo­ple spend money they couldn’t af­ford to spend? Of course they did. Did the news me­dia play a role in build­ing a ridicu­lous amount of hype? Of course we did. Turn­ing it into a play-by-play event, with breath­less re­port­ing on the length of lines and the risk of tick­ets run­ning out, we were bark­ers for the car­ni­val sideshow.

But nor­mal­iz­ing and pro­mot­ing gam­bling is not with­out a cost. I heard from a num­ber of peo­ple, re­cov­er­ing gam­blers fight­ing their own per­sonal bat­tles, that the ubiq­ui­tous cov­er­age has a cost, mak­ing it even harder to get through a day with­out re­laps­ing into gam­bling.

Here’s just one: “I can only imag­ine how many pay­cheques, so­cial as­sis­tance, old age, un­em­ploy­ment cheques, etc. have been used for Chase the il­lu­sive Ace. Mort­gages, vehicle loans, rent, gro­ceries, back to school items, are not be­ing paid or pur­chased.”

Does the hype have an ef­fect? Of course it does, even on the strong­est of wills.

My mother con­stantly spoke of lotteries as a tax on the poor, but even she crum­bled un­der the trio of pres­sures of a big prize, in­sis­tent neigh­bours who all had tick­ets, and pres­sure from ticket sell­ers for a na­tional lottery in Spain. (What made it even more of a com­edy is that she didn’t have enough Span­ish to even know if she’d won any­thing in the draw, and never did find out.) But if she could crack, so could any­one.

I hon­estly feel for those who fight the urge to gam­ble ev­ery sin­gle day, and won­der about the lat­est nor­mal­iza­tion; video lottery ma­chines sup­pos­edly need so much reg­u­la­tion they have to be in li­censed premises to keep them away from kids (though the truth is that hav­ing them where there’s liquor prob­a­bly greatly in­creases the take).

Yet a char­i­ta­ble draw be­comes a fes­ti­val, cen­tred around a mas­sive game of chance.

But even with the evils aside, as a way to ef­fec­tively raise a set amount of money for char­i­ta­ble pur­poses, it’s boom or bust. Like Goldilocks look­ing for a bed, it’s ei­ther too big or too small. The cash is also es­sen­tially un­reg­u­lated, once raised and, as we’ve seen in Bay de Verde, can be sources of con­tro­versy, re­crim­i­na­tion, blame and then au­dits.

I think it’s time to wind them up. For good.

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