Visit a convenience store anywhere in the community and you will find people playing the Georgia Lottery. They are taking a chance, spending hard-earned dollars, looking for good fortune. Most forms of gambling are illegal in many jurisdictions, but Georgia's Lottery is state approved with monies designated for public education.
There isn't a great deal of skill involved in taking a coin and scratching a ticket, hoping the numbers come up in your favor. A friend says he plays every day and seldom wins anything but a free ticket or a few dollars. His best reward happened several years ago when he won a $500 jackpot, and this keeps him playing. His once "big" win is still a good omen and a promise he might some day hit another pot at the end of a rainbow! He admits he may be living in a fool's paradise, yet he plays on.
When he reads about lottery officials being awarded $3 million in bonuses, he wonders if players are being short changed. Administrators are hitting it big while players are getting free tickets, and education may not be receiving its intended funding either.
Some players feel gambling is innocent enough even though they do not always win but sometimes break even. Still, they have dreams of that one big hit that will change their lives and make things better for them and their families. They read stories about real big winners and think they have the same opportunity in spite of the odds. The probability of their winning big money in a lottery is not very likely.
Odds being unfavorable, some people gamble for diversion. Others consider themselves professionals and hope to earn a living in playing a variety of games of chance. Those who are hooked sometimes are unable to stop gambling. They enjoy taking the risks and like the thrill of the game rather than the greed for money.
You may know some senior citizens who take periodic trips to casinos to play the slots. They may not win big, but they consider the risks taken to be minor. Hey, it is just a recreation fee. "I didn't win, but I had fun," they will tell you. They sat down in front of several machines, inserted coins or cards, pulled levers and relaxed for a few hours. They dreamed of hearing bells and whistles telling them they hit the jackpot!
For these folks, gambling is only an occasional thing. It is only when their visits increase and they spend more and more time at the casino that they realize their gambling has become compulsive.
Yes, they have a problem. What started out as a church Bingo game or a raffle has progressed to the race track or computer gambling. It is on to sweepstakes, numbers, lotteries and slots. Perhaps even at some point to poker or wheel games. Maybe too much of the family income is going to gambling and the welfare of the family itself is in jeopardy.
When gamblers find themselves in financial difficulty, it is time to seek professional help. It is time for them to reorganize their lives and conquer a bad habit. It is time to realize that there is no free lunch.
Gambling is hit or miss, uncertainty, a guessing game. It is trying to beat the law of averages, but more like seeking a pig in a poke. Money wagered can be better invested elsewhere.
Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author, and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Sunday.