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Jan-30-2008 22:15printcomments

Oregon Lottery Scratch-its: The New Joe Camel

The Oregon Lottery calls the scheme a "promotional program" and is using shills from the media to maximize its slick PR campaign.

Joe Camel
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(SILVERTON, Ore.) - Years ago, facing legal and political pressure for marketing cancer sticks to youth, R.J. Reynolds put out to pasture its infamous Joe Camel mascot. Today's "Scratch-it for Schools" campaign by the Oregon State Lottery may not sport a character with a hump, but its cynicism brings back memories of old Joe.

Last November, the Oregon Lottery, with help from the Oregon Department of Education, invited K-12 public schools to gamble on Scratch-it for Schools. This month, the Lottery picked 75 applicants to play the game.

Come April, teams of eight adults, four from each school and four from TV or radio stations, will have five minutes to scratch as many Oregon Lottery Scratch-it tickets as they can. The schools will keep the cash prizes uncovered by their teams.

If a lottery is a bad tax on people's poor understanding of statistics, Scratch-it for Schools is nothing but a public relations scam peddling the lie that lottery games can be a panacea for schools' funding shortages, all the while validating gambling in the eyes of our kids.

The cynical nature of the campaign comes across loud and clear in the invitation to schools to register online. The Oregon Lottery encouraged school officials to fill out the registration on their home computers, because some school computers ban access to the Lottery's website. Many school computers apparently put lotteries in the same category as pornography when it comes to online access.

What do the school computers know that the principals and school district administrators fail to grasp?

The computers apparently know that Oregon public health officials are concerned about problem gambling in general and youth gambling in particular. At least some public schools profess similar concerns, though that didn't stop them from entering and winning slots in the Lottery's Scratch-it for Schools promotion. Both Portland Public Schools and the Silver Falls School District, for example, have policies prohibiting student gambling - playing games of chance for the purpose of exchanging money or anything of value.

And perhaps the school computers also understand the deceptive math behind the Scratch-it for Schools marketing scheme. The Oregon Lottery boasts that last year it raised about $86,000 through the school-based gambling event. To some, especially kids, that may sound like a lot of money. Yet, considering that the state school budget is $6,245,000,000, the $86,000 is peanuts. Actually, it's just a few grains of salt on the peanuts. It's just fourteen one-millionths -- 0.0014 percent -- of an increase in funding for schools.

Put another way, the Oregon Lottery's Scratch-it for Schools event provides enough funding to add a little less than half a minute to the school year of Oregon's schoolchildren. Schools would be better off spending their time giving their students a math lesson and teaching them that the Oregon Lottery accounts for less than 3 percent of the cost of state government.

But Scratch-it for Schools is really not primarily about helping schools. The Oregon Lottery calls the scheme a "promotional program" and is using shills from the media to maximize its slick PR campaign.

Unfortunately, like RJR's Joe Camel, the campaign is aimed at vulnerable youth. After all, how can a marketing campaign targeting schools not implicate their students?

State human services officials are rightly concerned that although students won't be allowed to scratch the tickets, they are likely to get caught up in the excitement and frenzy as their teachers, administrators and parents -- presumably role models -- frantically scratch tickets for a little money.

Instead of helping promote the fantasy that playing the lottery will solve life's challenges, schools should teach kids the facts of life: taxes, not gambling revenues, are responsible for 90 percent of school funding. If schools want more digital cameras, books, assembly programs, playground equipment, computer hardware and software and field trips -- allegedly what past Scratch-it for Schools winners bought with their money -- they'd be better off working to strengthen our tax system's funding for our public structures.

Just as the tobacco industry invented Joe Camel to hook children on a dangerous product, the Oregon Lottery has come up with its own marketing ploy to ready its future prey. Let's hope a public outcry similarly banishes Scratch-it for Schools to the PR pasture for misguided publicity schemes. Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. He can be reached at

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von Sparky April 9, 2008 7:11 pm (Pacific time)

Scratch-Its For Schools is a great program. It’s hard to improve on a public policy strategy this forward thinking, but here are some new advertising slogans to consider: “gambling with our children’s future,” “public education is a crap-shoot, so scratch away Billy-Bob.” This fundraiser also teaches our students an important lesson: “hard work is over-rated, you really can get-rich-quick with the lottery.” Finally, while man may have limited intelligence, it’s a good thing there is no limit on stupidity. Otherwise, people might figure out that that gambling is a voluntary tax. “Odds of winning: one in five, payout 53%.” Oh, don’t get all mathie on me.

Henry Ruark February 2, 2008 11:15 am (Pacific time)

Neal et al: Even if you are right --and most research on this is ambiguous-- the sensitivity here is for those who may easily give in --and become gamblers harmed by the practice. Since there is no way in the world to isolate and inject any saving substance into those few -if they are, indeed, only a few-- it surely makes rational, reasonable sense for any school operation or connection to avoid any part of promoting further such harm to them --sure to rebound to cost, if not harm, for others, in making up the deficiencies they will create. "Will" to fight off such seductive temptation is one thing; the wit to avoid it is another. It is the latter we should be teaching, and this setup voids that possibility.

Jefferson February 2, 2008 11:09 am (Pacific time)

BID DEAL! Operant conditioning is no doubt impacting some weak-minded who feel that the majority of people are going to be unduely influenced by this exercise. I can see where some people, though, who have no doubt been conditioned throughout their life, will never break out of the "Skinner box!" This type of conditioning is most certainly impacting our current electorate, and South Carolina is an excellent example, something far more important than scratching some tickets...

Neal Feldman February 1, 2008 1:09 pm (Pacific time)

julie - Gambling IS harmless. Like anything else it is what one does with it that causes harm or not. It is the gambler who cannot control themselves that is harmful, not gambling in and of itself. Every day millions of people gamble with no harm coming from it at all. You HAVE heard of the concept of 'personal responsibility' have you not? Smoking causes proven health risks. Gambling does not. A responsible gambler only gambles with what they can afford to lose, does not use gambling as a retirement plan, etc. There is no 'civic duty' aspect to the Scratch-its for Schools deal... and it is making no judgment calls on it anyway. And since proceeds from the lottery largely go for schools the link is already there. Show me the demonstrable harm to the user by simply scratching off a scratch-it that even comes close to comparable to that harm caused to the user (and those around them) of a tobacco cigarette and then there might be some comparison. Otherwise you are just blowing smoke (pun intended) Ah well...

Henry Ruark February 1, 2008 10:18 am (Pacific time)

To all: Social sensitivity is the hallmark of any sensitive society, and it starts with kids: What they learn and how they learn it. This issue is key to what schools should do and should NOT do --and the Lottery administration should not make that determination for Oregonians, since it surely does have a special interest driving its actions. This is what Chuck S. wrote early-on: "If a lottery is a bad tax on people's poor understanding of statistics, Scratch-it for Schools is nothing but a public relations scam peddling the lie that lottery games can be a panacea for schools' funding shortages, all the while validating gambling in the eyes of our kids." That states the issue precisely and exactly, making the point that the only possible outcomes cannot but be bad for both the kids and the continuing toll of victims falling to the blandishments of gambling --as well as to understandings re the proper role of taxes to support our schools. Why should it take us more decades to learn that ? We already have a highly dangerous example in the very image at question here: Joe Camel, notorious for impacts on the young and others in building addiction to the world's deadliest habit - that of smoking. NO state agency should have any connection whatsoever with anything similar to this potent/persuasive piece of propaganda, perhaps even promoted in part by Big T, who still controls that image, you can bet !! Thanks to Chuck Sheketoff and OCPP for having, first, the sensitivity and then the courage to make this crystal clear, in this channel.

julie January 31, 2008 9:51 pm (Pacific time)

Regarding the Mr. Feldman's comment, it seems like those sentiments are what we're dealing with as a society: that gambling is harmless. Forty years ago, the same would've been said of Joe Camel and effects of smoking. With 'Scratch-Its for Schools' and similar Lottery offerings, we're encouraging our kids that lottery is without harm and practically a civic duty. Unfortunately too many people have gambling problems, and we should be doing a better job of modeling to our kids.

Neal Feldman January 31, 2008 4:58 am (Pacific time)

I hardly see this as the end of the world. And I don't see it as linking kids to lives of hick squalor scratching off tickets. It certainly lacks the gross societal harms the likes of the real Joe Camel wrought. This has all the earmarks of a tempest in a teapot. Sorry but I really see it as little else. Ah well...

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