Even though George Nelson is a very deserving $1.1 million winner, the North Dakota Lottery is still a scam. Consequently, I have not been joining the weekly pilgrimages to Wally's Supermarket in Grafton to buy lucky lottery tickets although I suspect that scores of superstitious gamblers have been making the trip since the state's biggest winners have been hauling their winnings home from tickets sold at Wally's.
Webster defines a scam as "a fraudulent scheme." There is no greater scam in the gambling world than state lotteries, the North Dakota Lottery included. Just look at the figures. The lottery sells around $25 million worth of tickets annually, distributed as follows: $5.5 million for operating expenses; $5.5 million to the state general fund; $200,000 to fight gambling addiction, and $12 million for prizes.
Now that $12 million in prizes represents around 45 percent of lottery receipts. That's got to be some form of fraud. Robbing banks would be more honest when we remember that the casinos on the Native-American reservations pay out 80 to 90 percent.
Knowing Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to be an upstanding, responsible person, I was surprised that he appeared in Grafton to present the symbolic check to the million dollar winner. After all, he runs a consumer fraud division in his office and warns us weekly about some scam that is too good to be true. The lottery is constantly advertising chances that are too good to be true.
Of course, Wayne didn't cook up this enterprise. The voters of North Dakota sanctioned this enterprise in two separate elections and the legislature foisted administration on the attorney general's office. The number of co-conspirators involved in this scam is incredible. Consequently, he has the option of absolving himself with the old hand-washing maneuver.
The lottery Web site boasts that this scam is "our most recent government-sponsored business enterprise." Audits indicate that it is also the fastest-growing enterprise, reporting sales of only $6 million in 2004 and jumping to around $25 million today. The scam is getting bigger. .
Allegedly, it tries to be a good scam, with no intention of being larcenous. The Web site claims that the North Dakota Lottery pledges to be "responsible" and urges folks not to spend more than they can afford.
"Remember! It's just a game. If gambling is no longer fun, please contact the Mental Health Association," the site advises.
But the fun can now be extended. The lottery is promoting the use of credit cards for buying lottery tickets. That is a new definition of "responsible." Credit card debt has become the scourge of America and North Dakota state government is now promoting it. Credit cards are an open invitation to addicts to spend more than they can afford.
Most people who buy lottery tickets know that the odds of winning are from nil to poor. (For over 99 percent, the odds are more "nil" than "poor".) They don't mind spending a few dollars on a bad bet. But the smart gamblers - if gambling can be smart - will head for the reservations where Native-Americans will give them a better deal than they can get from North Dakota's newest government-sponsored enterprise.
Lloyd Omdahl served as North Dakota's 34th Lieutenant of the state from 1987 to 1992. Previously he was a professor of political science at the University of North Dakota. He continues to write columns for newspapers across the state of North Dakota.