The Magazine

Everybody Loses

May 26, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 35 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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New York enjoyed a mid-season subway series last week with four games between the Mets and Yankees. Seeing the two teams play every year instead of once in a generation is one of the upsides of Major League Baseball’s recent experiment in inter-league play. But for the hometown TV audience, it means enduring grotesque public-service antismoking ads. New York State promotes nonsmoking by showing gory surgeries, rotting lungs, and a man struggling to breathe: “Dying from smoking is rarely quick .  .  . and never painless.” Thus the tireless compassion of New York.

Lots of people win? Define "lots."

The ethics of using tax dollars to frighten people into changing their behavior can be debated. But The Scrapbook has a different objection: This same benevolent state also runs ads promoting its lottery with the slogan: “Hey, you never know.” 

Of course, you do know: State lotteries have about the same rate of return as wishing wells. Odds of winning the jackpot—1 in 258,890,850, according to the lottery’s (.gov) website. Perhaps New York relies on its public school matriculants not knowing much math.

A different New York lottery campaign uses the slogan “Everybody Wins.” One ad features kids singing to a man in a convenience store: “Thank you for being a friend. .  .  . Your heart is true. .  .  . Won’t you stand up and take a bow?” He proved his heart was true by buying a lottery ticket, some of whose proceeds will go to help schoolchildren “just like them”—those smiling, angelic kids.

Yes, smoking is bad for you (as the ads remind us), and sometimes ruins lives. Well, the lottery, basically a tax on the poor, ruins lives, too. Watching the baseball scoreboard, we couldn’t help but wonder about a different score: How many people did New York get to quit smoking versus how many did it encourage to start gambling?

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