Big Oil vs. Big Lotteries: Where’s Congress?

What a spectacle! This week Congress heard testimony from oil executives, who, along with the companies they run, are allegedly making too much money. As such, “Big Oil,” or—more specifically—those rapacious, robber-baron CEOs who stand atop that heaping mass of oil profits, now stand in the stockade, where they will get their comeuppance. Take heart, fellow Americans: Your faithful servants in Washington are seeking justice from those who exploit you at the gas pump.

With that being case, I’m eagerly awaiting for Congress to next take a close look at those responsible for state lotteries.

Think about it: Gasoline is gasoline. You need it for your commute to the office, to take the kids to soccer, to buy groceries, to visit family, to take a vacation. You have a need, which you satisfy by voluntarily making a purchase at the gas station. You pay with cash or card, and, in turn, get gas in your tank. Oil companies have agreed to a straight-up, no-nonsense, no-tricks arrangement with you. There is no surprise. When you exit the gas station, there is no uncertainty about whether you have received a return for your dollar. Your car has been fueled.

When it comes to state lotteries, however, just the opposite is true: The service provider in this case is not a private-sector company, but the public sector, i.e., the government.  Yet the government has carefully manipulated a situation—call it a scheme, which it literally is—whereby the vast, vast majority of consumers will receive nothing in return for their dollar, or even for their many, many dollars spent over decades of dashed hopes. Quite the contrary: If the government did provide a return on your investment, it would fail in its core objective with the lottery. The goal of the lottery is take in more than it gives out. The goal is to take from the citizen.

Put differently, through clever ads and whatever other mechanisms, state governments have found a way to get their citizens excited about the prospects of becoming multi-millionaires and then coldly and deliberately deny such dreams on a daily basis. And there will be no hearings in Congress on this.

Even worse—and one would think that liberal politicians especially would be enraged over this—this system adversely affects the poor and the elderly more than any other group. Rich people don’t play lotteries. And if they did, they could afford to do so. By and large, the wealthy are wealthy because they are wise with their money. They see the ruse orchestrated by state-lottery officials and don’t participate—they don’t take the bait. For those who do play, however, the state has guaranteed failure and frustration—and possible addiction—through the punitive system it has finely honed.

And who or what makes Congress fume in this scenario? Not the state lottery officials—i.e., Congress’s public-sector comrades—but the people who run the oil companies. Imagine that. Amazing, isn’t it?

Don’t hold your breath: Lottery officials will never be called before Congress. Why not? Because they engage in a grand rip-off approved by government, and, in fact, operated by government. Liberals in particular, who get angry when the private sector makes a big profit, are thrilled when the government makes an even bigger profit. After all, think of all the “good things” the government does with lottery revenues: services for seniors, maybe some money for public schools, perhaps even a few bucks for health care! As far as the government is concerned, when it comes to lotteries, the ends justify the means, and this is a cynical scheme to be embraced.

If even one oil company, or one oil executive, consistently ripped off the public the way the government does via state lotteries, there would not only be Congressional hearings—the company would be fined, disgraced, perhaps even shut down, and the oil executive would be fired, retired, and maybe even jailed. So, as you watch certain Congressmen rail against oil executives, think not of obscene private-sector profits, but, instead, think about the hypocrisy you’re witnessing.