Jewish World Review Aug. 4, 1999 /22 Av, 5759
Someone who will stand against Predatory Practices and Deceptive Advertising. Someone who will fight for The Elderly and The Children. Someone who will crack down on a get-rich-quick scheme. Someone who will sue the Washington State Lottery.
It's about time the government got a taste of its own litigious medicine, isn't it?
My search was inspired by Christine Gregoire, Washington's state attorney general and patron saint of all souls who refuse to take responsibility for their personal vices. Gregoire made national headlines last year when she extorted billions of dollars from private tobacco companies on behalf of cigarette smokers who ignored decades of surgeon generals' warnings. She made headlines again this spring when she hauled poor Ed McMahon, Dick Clark and three sweepstakes promoters into court.
Gregoire lambasted the firms and their famous front men for trying "to convince people, especially the elderly, they are about to become millionaires." She recounted tragic tales of gullible losers who ignored the fine print and squandered their life savings on sweepstakes entries. Of course, the average 10-year-old kid has enough common sense to throw away those tacky mailers after playing let's-pretend with the bogus winning certificates and magazine stickers.
But a good lawyer never lets common sense get in the way of a high-profile, deep-pocketed, blame-mongering lawsuit.
What exactly did the private sweepstakes firms do illegally? "The headlines, the words, everything about these mailers are calculated to get people to buy products they wouldn't otherwise buy," Gregoire fumed. Congress jumped in on the act this week, too. A bipartisan vice squad introduced legislation that could impose million-dollar fines on sweepstakes companies guilty of using "enticing" ad campaigns.
Well, what is advertising if not a calculated ploy to entice people "to buy products that they wouldn't otherwise buy?" And what about the state's own lottery advertising, which entices people to pour their Social Security checks down the drain? Public officials who attack sweepstakes companies for selling false hopes should take a look at the marketing of lottery games run by their own governments before chasing after Big Ed and Tricky Dick.
Here's a small taste of the state-sponsored gambling slogans that bombard our citizenry:
What's your dream?
All summer long, Washington state has been giving away Ford Explorers to lure new gamblers into purchasing instant "scratch" tickets. Last month, Lotto salesmen in four states teamed up with promoters of the movie "Wild, Wild West," starring popular young matinee idols Will Smith and Salma Hayek. Tobacco and liquor execs get the third-degree over such blatant kiddie-targeted ads. Why not state lottery honchos?
It's what public-health worrywarts call a national epidemic: 38 states spend $400 million a year plugging lotteries.
Fronting for Washington state's gambling craze is celebrity muscleman Jack LaLanne. The 84-year-old fitness guru was hired by the lottery last fall to peddle a new $2 product, "Lucky for Life," that obviously targets flabby-willed senior citizens. According to ad executives, he "personifies the message of good health and long life."
"I'm going to show you how to feel better and live longer, so you can win more," LaLanne tells his prey. The odds of winning the grand prize are 1 in 3,921,225 - but you won't hear Jack LaLanne touting those vital statistics upfront. Federal Trade Commission rules requiring truth in advertising don't apply to state lotteries.
The lottery paints glamorous portraits of lifetime winners who dutifully pledge to continue playing the numbers. In keeping with the game theme of "a healthy lifestyle," the Washington State Lottery reports that one retired couple received a gym membership in addition to their Lucky for Life cash: "Asked if they'll keep playing Lottery games, Mr. Sales responded, `You bet!' In fact, Mrs. Sales won $4 this morning on Pot O' Gold Scratch tickets she bought in the Lottery's lobby while her Lucky for Life claim was being processed."
Live longer, play more, win more money!
Somewhere out there is a bright lawyer who will refuse to stand by as tens
of thousands of citizens - The Elderly, The Children - get hooked on
lottery tickets. Someone who will sue to end the state's moral double
standards on gambling. Someone who will ask all those slap-happy state
attorneys general a simple question: If government can profit off the
gullibility and irresponsibility of its own citizens, why can't anybody
07/21/99: "True-life tales from the Thin Red Line"
(or "Honor those who sacrificed their lives for peace")