by Jim Harris

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly didn’t seem to mind when Tom Corbett gave away the land beneath our feet to the natural gas industry for indiscriminate “fracking,” but they sure did get angry when the good Governor announced that he was turning over management of the Pennsylvania Lottery to a British company for $34 billion.

Although the state-run lottery was already making $3.5 billion a year, Corbett says that the new arrangement will generate an additional $50 million annually for senior services — much needed things like wigs, one-hole golf courses and handrails in discotheques.

The British company, Camelot Global Services, says it plans to attract more players by simplifying Pennsylvania’s lottery, which already has a dizzying array of drawings including Big 4, Cash 5, Mega Millions, Quinto, Power Ball and, of course, the ever- popular Daily Number Mid-day and Daily Number Evening, which can be played “straight,” “boxed,” “straight-boxed,” “super-straight,” “front pair,” or “back pair” or with sausage and pepperoni.

And then there are the additional “instant” games with fanciful names like “scratch and sniff,” “twist and shout,” “Gamble and Huff” and “Abbott and Costello,” in which players obtain a card from a vending machine, instantly see that they lost and toss it on the ground.

Camelot also says they will be trying to tap into a more upscale demographic by putting gaming terminals in places like sushi bars and tanning salons. This is because many of the lottery’s present low-income patrons are turning to phony injury lawsuits as their game of choice: it’s free, the payoffs are bigger, and the odds of winning are MUCH, MUCH better than the lottery.

Of course, one of the early victims in the lottery’s quest for change was “Gus, the second most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania.” The official lottery mascot for eight years, Gus was unceremoniously dumped last February. Some thought his tag line, “Keep on Scratchin’,” promoted poor hygiene. Gus took to drinking after his firing and spent several months in rodent rehab. He is presently employed as an understudy for Punxsutawney Phil as well as for the Lieutenant Governor (in case we actually have a Lieutenant Governor that anyone in the state has ever heard of).

Now, I’m old enough to remember those good old days when the mob ran the lottery. You didn’t have to go anywhere to buy a ticket because they came to you. There was hardly an office or factory anywhere that wasn’t visited every day by the friendly neighborhood bookie. And if you were short on cash, he’d give you credit!!! No fancy games or clever gimmicks, just a three-digit daily number, and it paid off at 600 to one. And you could also bet on football and baseball games, beauty contests, how many Philly politicians would be indicted in the coming year, how many family members of politicians would get no-show government jobs, etc. Now those were the days!

I say let’s give the lottery back to the mob. They could use the work, and it would keep the jobs here in Pennsylvania. They wouldn’t need all that expensive TV advertising, either, just a street team of loyal bagmen and enforcers. Maybe, as just one concession to modern times, they could have a furry mascot — something like “Harry, the Homicidal Hamster.”

He could appear on TV from time to time and say something like, “Hey! Do you care about old people? Then play the freakin’ lottery. Otherwise, somethin’ bad might happen to them, if you catch my drift. You think I’m kidding? You think this is funny, huh? What, you never saw a hamster with an arsenal of guns from Walmart before? Just try me!”

It could work. These guys are efficient. They don’t call it “organized” crime for nothing. So Governor Corbett, if you’re reading this article (I hear you’re a big fan), lose the Limeys and hire the Crimeys. As a practitioner of strong-arm tactics yourself, I’m sure you can see the wisdom of this approach. If we’re going to get fleeced anyway, let’s at least keep the money right here at home.

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