Saturday, November 12, 2022

Shady (or The Lottery Ticket)

Can someone explain this grift? I'm quite puzzled. So... Well, let me start at the beginning... Sunday afternoon at loose ends and needing to escape the pandemic and getting depressed at America gearing up to vote (again) for depraved indifference, I thought I'd go buy a Powerball ticket...

Now I'm an engineer, a devotee of Bayesian thinking, I weigh probabilities on almost every decision I make, risk averse is my middle name. Let alone the cautious immigrant, protestant/Quaker influence. So this business about gambling (even with a billion dollar jackpot) was a big step.

Earlier, I'd been discussing lotteries, gambling, and addiction with The 11 year old, pointing out that I was more likely to be struck by lightning walking to buy a lottery ticket than to win, that most saw lotteries as a tax on poor people or the statistically challenged etc.

I'd pointed out that what most people gain from playing the lottery is the psychic benefit of imagining what they would do if they won. Two dollars for a fantasy of affluence is cheaper than dinner and a movie (pandemic permitting) or a montly subscription for a Netflix and chill.

She'd heard all the cautionary tales of substance abuse, addiction and obsession - the black sheep of the family. She'd heard how my second semester at Harvard was almost derailed by those three weeks bingeing on Tetris (of all things) so that I immediately uninstall any games on any device I own.

The 11 year old was unconvinced, she knows about obsession. "Just don't go overboard, Daddy. Maybe just buy a couple of tickets". She also made me agree that I should share any winnings with her and her brother. This one is actually interested in money.

The only time I've won a game of chance was 10 pounds at the lottery in England in 2012, just before the Olympics. That was the trip where Theresa May's hostile environment welcomed me by withdrawing my residency to Her Majesty's lands. Call it My Windrush (or Indefinite Leave to Remain).

Tell a lie, I did also win the Green Card lottery in 1995 - the first time I applied. And the first (and only) time that bureaucracy had ever tilted in my direction.

Normally I am fated to run into a Never Never Man. Sigh...

Anyway, my US residency and the 10 pounds I had won were the consolation prizes when I returned from that disastrous trip to London. I wasn't deported, but I'd have to be dealing with lawyers to contest and regain my UK residency. My animus towards Theresa May is rather personal...

Incidentally, IBM's lawyers helped expedite my naturalization and I was able to submit the paperwork just days before the first Gingrich Federal government shutdown. Thank you Clinton-Gore for keeping things moving. Those 1995-1996 shutdowns really caused upheaval and backlogs.

My salary increased by $30,000 that year. A commentary on just how exploitative the H-1 visa process is. Much as I'd like to think that IBM thought I was a stellar employee, I know that the salary adjustment was a fraction of the money they'd save on legal fees for processing an H-1 visa

Anyway... I walked down to our local corner store. Four years in the neighborhood and I've never entered the place. The Wife had warned me off in the early days. Their stock was stale, rancid even, the one time she'd bought some bananas, "They were rotten!".

But mostly it's the corner that's the issue. We've been doing the African gentrification of East Austin but that pocket is the last holdout of the bad days. I guess you'd say it's an active scene. Not quite Hamsterdam, but it's not wholesome. If there is still a drug scene, it's around there.

The South East Asian lady behind the counter looked at me with jaded but anthropological interest - wearing a KN94 mask in these times seems to be a cultural signifier. The Grand Reopening of Texas was in May 2020.

I asked whether they sold lottery tickets, and asked for $20 worth of Powerball tickets - I haven't used cash since March 2020, so the bill that I pulled from my wallet looked quite the worse for wear. Dusty, but I plopped it down on the counter with alacrity. You have to look confident.

Eyebrows raised at the layers of pocket lint on the bill, she moved to the lottery machine. And then the puzzle starts. I expected a 30 second transaction. Press to select Powerball, press 2, press 0, press Enter ($20). Press Print to print the ticket.

Instead it sounded like a old dot-matrix printer was at work, and it was going on for an eternity it seemed. She kept punching numbers and she kept printing. What gives?

Anyway after a good 3 minutes she walked back brandishing a stack of tickets. Okay I thought, maybe it was an older machine and she couldn't print all the tickets on one slip. Still, it was a little suspect.

She then proceeded to count out the tickets ostentatiously. 1, 2... to 10. Handed the 10 tickets to me, and pocketed the other 3 at the bottom of the pile. She smiled and turned to the movie she was watching (a Bollywood joint).

"Thank you ma'am. Have a good day".

So as I walked out and took off my mask, I started to wonder about the nature of the grift that was being perpetrated here. I first checked that I indeed had my 10 tickets. I satisfied myself that I wasn't being directly stiffed but I felt used somehow - dirty, unclean.

Was she stiffing the lottery company? And how did the scam work? I know that there was a notional $6 excess that I'd last seen go into her pocket. Call it the bezzle. But how was it redeemed? Was it the $6 that mattered or the lottery ticket? Or were both the bonus she sought?

Double entry accounting. Where was this $6 surplus going? If she was reporting a $26 sale to the lottery, where was the other $6 coming from? Was she doing a Breaking Bad money laundering in a cash heavy business type of transaction?

Or was it just about the ticket? Was there a pool of extra tickets that the owners can distribute? Launder money while potentially increasing one's odds of winning? Tilting the scales of "It could happen to you!"

Can someone explain the likely mechanics of the grift? What is the nature of the bezzle? Who is getting shafted here other than us taxpayers? There's skimming going on, but how exactly?

grocery store art

Shady, a playlist

A soundtrack for this anecdote (spotify version)
Postscript: I obviously didn't win the lottery but gained 25 odd tweets and food for thought for my trouble

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Writing log. November 6, 2022

1 comment:

Douglas Kretzmann said...

the machine I bought my Powerball ticket on, printed a single ticket with all the 10 numbers on it. I wonder if their machine is older or ingeniously modified ?
Like you I cannot think how the bezzle is swung here..

as another immigrant poor but honest the H1 story was familiar - I doubled my salary after getting the green card..