Remember to Bring the Dice

In case you missed the news, today is the first day in the rest of Sharon Sharp’s life. Even as the rest of us mumble over our oatmeal, Ms. Sharp is pulling up the curtain on the new, fortified California lottery.

That is to say, the lottery that replaces the old, failed lottery. The one that utterly flunked its goal of separating the ghettos and barrios from their monies with all the efficiency expected of a modern gambler state. The old lottery was so bad that the ghettos and barrios caught on to its tricks and refused to be fleeced.

An intolerable situation, you will agree. Billions were at stake. So we fired the old managers and brought in Ms. Sharp, fresh from great success with the Illinois ghettos. And today the first of Ms. Sharp’s new games hits the liquor stores.

Will she pull it off? Will she succeed in draining the ghettos and barrios? Let me advance the notion that she will not. There is a problem here. No, problems.


Let’s start small and take the name thing. Ms. Sharp seems to have missed the point when it comes to monikers for lottery games. She appears not to understand that the names of all games must end in the traditional, mellifluous “O.”

You will recall the late “Lotto.” Or “Little Lotto.” Or “Decco.” And so on.

At first it looked like Ms. Sharp got it. She named the first new game, “SuperLotto.” A little derivative, perhaps, and the prefatory “Super” is sadly reminiscent of something from a detergent box. But at least it observes the rule.

After that, I’m afraid we go down hill. The next game carries the vaguely sit-comish title, “Fantasy Five.” You could imagine this title being attached to a show in which a dwarf tries to raise five lovable kids on a tropical island.


Who knows what names will come next. The “Brady Hunch,” perhaps. I sense a failure here to keep the marketing eye on the ball. Which is, after all, the ghetto and barrios, not exactly the place where you want to parlay the 70s sitcom stuff.

We need names and games fit for the purpose. For example, here’s an idea that might work better in South-Central. What say we install electronic game machines in various alleys. The screens would perpetually display a scene where a bunch of Nintendo men are hunched in a circle. One of them is throwing the dice.

We call this game Craps-O. The screen and whole set-up are bullet-proof, of course. Anyone passing down the alley could slip some coins in the electronic player and make a bet on the game. Then he watches while the electronic shooter makes his point, or doesn’t. This is followed by a new round of betting on the next throw.

I predict that this game would become the cash cow of the lottery business, sucking the rent money from a thousand alley travelers each week. In your Asian ghettos the same machines could be used with different software to produce Mah Jong-O.


Do not dismiss this idea lightly, Ms. Sharp-O. The lottery has a long pull ahead, and it needs a no-nonsense approach. Have you thought, for example, of offering gaming opportunities to welfare moms at the properly chosen moment?

Picture check day at the Human Services Department. I envision a series of booths equipped with closed-circuit television showing your local pony races. One booth for Hollywood Park, another for Del Mar. The welfare moms could collect their checks, choose their track and place their wagers.

The title for this one is easy. We’d call it “Bookie-O.” The odds offered at Bookie-O might be a little steeper than those at the track because, after all, we are financing education here.

Speaking of finance, I see very significant profits here. We might make enough to pay for our schools and then some.


You are aware, Ms. Sharp, that the state of California currently finds itself in a state of acute financial embarrassment. We have a deficit that is growing at the rate of $1 billion per hour. Or something like that. Just last week the governor, a desperate man, suggested that the state scuttle the welfare system to save money.

But there’s no need to shrivel welfare payments and incur those political liabilities, right? Not when we can get the money back this way. Maybe a discreet phone call to the governor would be appropriate.

Explain about the new system. Explain the potential. Tell him that this way, there’s no confrontations with the liberals, no fights in the Legislature. And no one’s the wiser.

And no reason to feel guilty because it’s not really gambling, right? It’s just the lottery.