By David G. Firestone
What do Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Chicago Cubs, the Cleveland Browns, religion, and the lottery have in common? At first, it might seem like nothing. None of those things might seem to have anything in common with each other, but it isn’t the things themselves, it’s the hope of the people who support them.
The Chicago Cubs have gone 107 years without winning a World Series. The Cleveland Browns have never been to a Super Bowl. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never won a Sprint Cup Championship, but all three are united by the undying hope of their fans. Human beings all have hope, but human beings need something to hope for, and something to inspire hope. For many, religion is that outlet. For others, it is their sports teams. For many, the hope that they could win millions in the lottery is that beacon of hope.
The history of the lottery in the United States dates back to the 1600’s, while Europe was colonizing North America. Many colonies saw gambling as harmless fun, but as English investors waned to profit from the New World, this changed quickly. As time went on, each of the 13 original colonies had a lottery system in place to help fund the colonies. It became a civic duty to play the lottery. Recessions, scandals, and corruption had almost eliminated the lottery in the United States by 1868.
In 1934, Puerto Rico, then a US colony, started a legal lottery. It would take 30 years, but in 1964, New Hampshire started a lottery. Since then, 44 of 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Washington DC, and the US Virgin Islands have lotteries. Alabama, Mississippi, and Utah don’t have lotteries due to religious objections. Nevada has the gambling industry, and they don’t want competition, and Alaska and Hawaii, not being mainland states, aren’t worried about losing tickets out of state.
The lottery takes several forms. Scratch off tickets, first introduced in the 1970’s, are a very popular method of playing the lottery. There are many different kinds of games, with different rules. Pick 3, pick 4, main drawing, and Powerball have their origin in “numbers games.” Numbers games were popular in poorer areas of the country, especially urban areas. The game works by drawing balls that had numbers to pick the winner. A similar game was popular in South Florida and Cuba called “Bolita” or “little ball” was where betters would bet on which number would be pulled out of a bag containing 100 numbered balls.
All the pre 1934 lotteries had one major drawback that kept them from being as accepted as it is today. They were easily rigged, and people lost money on the racketeering that took place around them. Today, the equipment, the drawing, the tickets, and every other aspect is heavily supervised and regulated so that this kind of cheating is not possible.
Anyone who thinks that lottery balls are ping pong balls has another guess coming. Lottery balls are specifically purpose designed. Made by Beitel Lottery Equipment, or Smartplay International, the balls are kept very secure at all times. According to Lotto Life, they are kept in safes, with 24 hour surveillance equipment focused on all aspects of the drawing. It isn’t known which of the machines, and which set of the lotto balls would be used until 90 minutes before the drawing.
After their life in the machine is over, what happens to the multi-colored balls that so many have placed their hope in? In many cases, they are kept by the lottery. In very rare instances, they are sold to the general public, like this example from the first Colorado Lottery.
The Colorado Lottery started on January 24, 1989, the first Colorado Lottery Drawing took place. It took place on Saturdays, and 42 numbers were drawn. In total, there are 1,405,006,117,752,879,898,543,142,606,244,511,569,936,384,000,000,000 different combination. This ball was one of at least two sets used. It was made by the Beitel Lottery Products company in Trenton New Jersey, and their logo is still embedded in the ball. To protect the secrecy of the makeup of the balls, it has been encased in Lucite. It has a plaque stating it was from “Set B” and was used from January 24, 1989 to March 4, 1995, just over 6 years of use. These were given to former employees, media members, and players.
Hope binds us all, we all have hope, and we all need something to hope for. Without hope, we truly have nothing. No matter where it comes from, it binds us all. So whatever hope means to you, I wish you the best.
By the way, if you, like me, are curious as to how they encase something like this in Lucite, this video should help explain it.