Tag Archives: Children and Gambling

Big Bucks, No Whammies: Lessons on Gambling

Photo from howieluvzus' photostream at flickr.com

When my boy was very young – maybe four or five years old – we had just completed our grocery shopping when he noticed a man in a green coat feeding dollar bills into a machine that then shot out shiny tickets. He asked me what the man was doing and what the machines were for and I thought, Aha! Now this is a teachable moment if I have ever seen one! I licked my lips, certain that this would be, without a doubt, the lesson on gambling that my son would never forget.

I explained to my littlun that the man in the green coat was buying scrach-off tickets. That each ticket had a different price, and that the man had a chance of winning a little money (as in the same amount as the cost of the ticket), a lot of money (in this case, up to $500 smackers) or he could lose everything.

For those of you who remember the ‘80s television sit-com, Family Ties, you may recall Alex P. Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox. “Alex,” was a high school student who had a passion for economics and wealth. A proponent of supply-side economics, Alex’s heroes were Republicans Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. His favorite television show was Wall $treet Week and he was an avid reader of the The Wall Street Journal. My son has always had a little Alex P. Keaton in him. Maybe more than a little. For his birthday this year, he wants Apple stock. But I digress.

Anyway, at age 5, my child was positively enthralled by the machine, the lights, the magical production of a shiny ticket which he now understood could win him big bucks. His eyes were wide.

“So he could win $500?” my child asked, pointing at the man in the green coat.

“He could,” I reiterated, “but the odds are against him. Most people lose.”

My child was in a zombie-like state, drifting over to the man and the machine.

I tugged on his arm. “Would you like to go over and ask the man some questions?”

I did not have to ask twice because my child was now running towards the man in the green coat.

After introducing my son and myself, I asked the man in the green coat if my child could ask him a few questions, and he was more than agreeable.

My son had a million questions.

Boy: How many tickets did you buy today?

Man: 10.

Boy: How much is each ticket?

Man: $2.

Boy: How many times a week do you play?

Man: Every day.

Boy: Every day?!

Man: Every day.

Boy (incredulous): You spend $20 every day on scratch-off tickets?

Man: Yup.

Boy: Do you ever win?

Man: Sometimes. Not usually.

Photo by Shoshanah at flickr.com

Boy: What’s the most you’ve ever won?

Man: Just a few dollars. Maybe $20. Usually I lose. But like they say, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

Boy: Who says that?

Man: It used to be on a commercial for the New York State Lottery.

Boy: What’s ‘lottery’?

Man: It’s another gambling game where you place a bet on numbers.

Boy: Do you play that?

Man: Sure do. Once a week.

Boy: Wow! You must be rich! How much money do you spend in a week on all these numbers games?

Here, I apologized profusely to the man in the green coat as boy was probing relentlessly about his finances and what he did for a living so he could afford to spend $20 a day on “these numbers games.” The older man graciously dismissed my apology with a wave of his hand.

Man: I suppose one day when you are bigger, you’ll be able to figure out how much money I spend in a week, even a year, on these tickets.

Boy (nodding): You gonna scratch now?

Man: Yup. You wanna watch?

Boy didn’t need to answer. He stood on his tippy-toes at the service desk, watching the man in the green coat burn through his scratch-off tickets with his “lucky” quarter in hand.

I was thinking to myself, if you usually lose, wouldn’t that be an “unlucky” quarter? Maybe you should pick a new coin.

In a short time, the man in the green coat was down to his last ticket, which he kissed dramatically. I am pretty sure he did this for my son’s benefit.

But whatever. I didn’t care. I was so happy. I had my car lecture ready to go in my head. It went something like this: You see, son, the man in the green coat spends $20 a day on scratch-off games, which is $140 per week. That’s about $560 per month, not counting whatever he pays for lottery tickets. That’s a lot of money, I would say. I was prepared to point out that our grocery bill that very day had come to $146, so that man’s habit was just under a week’s worth of groceries for our family of three. I was prepared to discuss car payments and mortgage payments and savings accounts, the money market, the stock market, 401K plans, stocks and bonds.

And then it happened.

Photo from djainslie @ flickr.com

The man in the green coat shouted, “Hey-o! She’s a winner!”

He leaned over and showed my son the three matching numbers lined up in a row.

“Five hundred dollars!” he said, “Kid, you are my lucky charm!” he declared with a wink, “What time can you be here tomorrow?” Then he wandered off to stand in the line, I assumed, to collect his winnings.

My son looked at me and said, “I thought you said people almost never win!”

My beautiful lesson was destroyed. What was a mom to do? I shrugged my shoulders and swallowed my perfectly prepared lecture. “I guess you have to be willing to take a little risk if you want to do something where the odds are against you.”

My soon-to-be 11-year old has no recollection of this event whatsoever, but he did recently use his own $5 to purchase a raffle ticket that a friend was selling. I don’t mind him supporting his buddy’s youth hockey team, but I kind of hope he doesn’t win.

If he does, he might start asking for a trip to Vegas for his 11th birthday.

Have you ever had a teachable moment go horribly awry?