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At the supermarket the other day I thought I had lucked out when there was only one person ahead of my in an express lane, which was also operating at that time as a customer service station. I soon discovered that the one person ahead of me had a fist full of lottery tickets that he wanted run through the special machine to see if he had won any cash at all. Turns out he won a few dollars, which he immediately reinvested, of course, in more lottery tickets. By now there were four customers behind me in the humorously named “express lane.”
After straightening out his previously bought lottery tickets he then handed the clerk a fist full of papers with the new numbers he wanted to play, which had to be individually punched in by the multi-tasking clerk. And the express lane line kept growing and growing.
I’m not sure how long the whole lottery ticket episode took but I promised myself I would never get behind another person holding a fist full of lottery tickets that needed a clerk’s undivided attention. When I got home from this experience I decided to do a little research on the history of government-run lotteries. I was surprised to learn that lotteries have played an important part in American history. Who knew?
Did you know that our original 13 colonies were financed, in part, with money gotten from government-run lotteries? And when the colonies decided to revolt against the king, lottery money was used to fund the Continental Army. The Father of our Country – George Washington – was paid with colonial lottery money. Lottery money also helped fund the Union Army in the Civil War.
But, according to “Consumer’s Research” magazine, lotteries, including our own Maine lottery, have the worst odds of any form of legalized gambling. That’s why state-run lotteries are called a “voluntary tax,” which some citizens are eager to pay.
If you don’t like the lousy odds with the Maine lottery you should go to Oxford Casino or Hollywood Slots in Bangor. In terms of highest payouts, you should shoot craps, which pays out 98 percent, followed by roulette which pays out 95 percent. It’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to shoot craps or play roulette at the customer service window at your local supermarket.
It’s probably not a good enough reason to pack up and move, but state lotteries with the best odds include: Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. The odds of winning jackpots in those states are 1 I-in-a thousand. The states with the worst odds: California and Florida. Their odds are 1 in 14 million. I couldn’t find the odds of winning a jackpot in Maine. Anyone know?
Since I only buy 2 or 3 lottery tickets per decade, I’ll probably not move to Delaware or Maryland. What about you?

John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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