Wednesday 28 Sep 2016

Misleading Lottery
David Simmonds

It’s not been a good week with me.


A flyer fell from my daily newspaper.

It all began when I examined a flier that tumbled out of my daily newspaper, advertising the “Sick Kids Lottery.” The chance to make a charitable donation at the same time as winning cash prizes appealed to both sides of my brain, so I looked at it carefully.

Two things stood out. “1 in 3 Odds,” it screamed; and “More Cash Prizes.” Now it didn’t explain on its face how the odds were calculated, and it didn’t say what “more” referred to: it could have been “more cash prizes than our last lottery,” “more cash prizes than are shown on this page,” “more cash prizes than are shown in this brochure,” “more cash prizes than our competitors’ lotteries” or even something else.

I looked a little more closely at the advertised cash prizes. For the cost of a basic $100 ticket, it appeared that you had a chance to win one of some 347 cash or cash in lieu prizes, having an aggregate value of about $1.5 million. This intrigued me. It seemed that if I plunked down my hundred bucks, I would get a one in three chance of getting one of those cash prizes. What was not to like about those odds?

It didn’t make any sense to me. How could the lottery fund its cash prizes if it were to guarantee odds of one in three? Wouldn’t that mean they could only sell three times 347 or 1,041 tickets? That means they could gross, at most, only just over $100,000. That wouldn’t pay for the cash prizes, let alone administrative expenses, never mind the good work of the Sick Kids Foundation.  


As a lawyer, as well as a wit, I always read the fine print.

Sure enough, in the fine, fine print, there was a clue. “See Rules and Regulations [on the web] for Details.” The Rules and Regulations, after noting that every ticket buyer is to have read them, painted a much different picture.

In fact, there are some 179,000 tickets available for purchase. The prizes, while including the cash prizes advertised, also include some 9,000 free lottery tickets and 45,000 “electronic and merchandise” prizes. It turns out that while the odds of winning a prize of some sort are indeed about one in three; the odds of winning a cash prize are a little longer, something like 347 in 179,000 or roughly one in 500.

On the positive front, with 179,000 tickets for sale, chances are that the Sick Kids Lottery will be able to pay for the cash prizes, cover expenses and make lots of money for the Foundation. No doubt, this was the intent from the outset; preplanned.

Though I now understood the odds and the nature of the prizes more clearly, I felt that the flyer led me astray. What if I was some unsophisticated little old woman, I said to myself, and not some worldly page-eight-columnist, for a top ranked international journal of record, such as the Wellington “Times”? Would I be tempted to bet my life savings on a mis-appreciation of the odds of winning a cash prize? 


I put it to the Sick Kids Foundation.

The flier was misleading. The written reply I received said, essentially, that the Foundation prides itself on adhering to lottery industry best practices. The Foundation uses the best practices in shorter form advertising, such as the flier. The goal of the short advertising is to “highlight key messages, such as odds and prizing.” The Rules and Regulations are on the web. A longer form 32-page brochure was available to explain things more fully. Further, that its regulator the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, had reviewed, vetted and approved the marketing materials. This is tantamount to suggesting that only a fool, such as I, would rely entirely on the flier and not bother to check things out more carefully.

As for those little old women I was so worried about, are sufficiently sophisticated enough not to fall into the trap I fell into. Maybe I’m not quite as worldly as I thought I was. Maybe I’m the sort of person the Alcohol and Gaming Commission is there to protect. Maybe I have to be just a little more vigilant than I thought I needed to be. Yes, I am still considering buying a ticket, if only to confirm, to myself, that I can handle the complexities of the whole odds and prizes business.

It’s been that kind of week.

 

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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