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Between the Lines: Scratch it, scratch it good

When I was a kid gambling was up there on the Sin List with sex, booze and drugs. Now it's a growth industry. It's also among the few industries in no danger of being outsourced to China, since having it to hand is sort of the point.

Along with prisons and medical care, it's one of our big remaining growth industries. Yes, our economic future is staked on something you shouldn't do, someplace you don't want to go and something you can't afford.

I don't get gambling. They say it's a sickness. I guess any addiction is. If you're a pornography addict, that's probably sick too, but at least I can understand the basic attraction. Same with booze or drugs or runner's high or roller coasters or anything that gives somebody a rush of feeling good.

A big billboard went in just down from my office. CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT GAMBLING? THAT'S A CALL FOR HELP.

No, it's not. It may be a sign you should call for help, but it's not in itself a call, is it?

But consider the underlying premise. Apparently there are people out there daydreaming of dice bouncing along the felt, of raking in the chips like James Bond.

At least old-fashioned games of chance have a relatively low threshold of self-delusion. They require you to think only that you are more skilled than the next guy. Electronic games require you to think that in the long run, the laws of the universe do not apply to you.

The same with — moving down the gambling hierarchy — various lotteries, and perhaps the bottom of the bottom, instant win tickets. Can you picture somebody dreaming about scratching crud off the face of a paper ticket?

Then what am I doing Friday morning in the Rogue Valley Mall with a stack of lottery tickets that would choke a turkey vulture? Along with MT editor Bob Hunter and sportswriter Kris Henry, I volunteered to help raise money for local schools.

I even brought a penny. But this is not that kind of scratching. We're talking big-time, competitive scratch-off here. Before us are 10 "practice tickets," a list of rules and two ice scrapers. We are to go at it for exactly five minutes. After that we'll go back and check for winners.

Ready, set, go. Bear down. Much yelling and screaming. Cheerleaders, no less. The lottery people are good at this.

Henry employs a massive thrust covering 10 or 15 tickets, followed by a return stroke to obliterate any remaining gunk from the tickets. Hunter favors a quick back-and-forth technique jumping from ticket to ticket. I flip-flop, finally settle on back and forth. At the two-minute mark my arm is tired. At the four-minute mark it's on fire. Then it's over, and I want to collapse like the rowing crews in those shells at the end of a race.

Our team raised $864 for Kennedy School. I think we finished last. If you're a gambler there's a message in all those tickets. There were lots of $1 winners, way fewer $5 and $10 winners, zero $500 winners. As Homer Simpson would say, "Stupid laws of the universe!"

When the Oregon Lottery was created in 1984 it was for economic development. The money began being used in part to pay for schools in 1995. Since 1998 it's been used for state parks and salmon habitat restoration.

It raises billions. People love it. Folks who wouldn't vote for a tax to save their grandmother from Atilla and all his Huns line up to give their money to Scratch-it, Keno, Powerball, Megabucks, Sports Action, Win for Life, Breakopens, Pick 4s, Lucky Lines, Scoreboard and so on.

But other opportunities are going to waste. They could set up lottery machines in offices, factories, churches. At the very least, schools and parks — two of the system's beneficiaries — should get with the program.

What could be more natural for anglers camped at Valley of the Rogue State Park than to play some Sports Action in those wasted hours between pulling out the boat and crawling into the camper? And what better environment for kids to gamble in than the schools? Remember, the lunch-money Keno kids of today will be the monster Megabucks players of the future.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.