Gunsmoke

BREAKING NEWS: One Capitol Square Building Evacuated!

We're eyewitness to this news: Our building, One Capitol Square, a 24-floor behemoth that's had an interesting history on the corner of Richmond's Main and 9th Streets, straddling the financial and political districts, that once featured a really cool outdoor escalator that ferried visitors straight into the building's second floor, is on fire right now! At least, the Richmond Fire Department tells us there's smoke in the basement. So we all hoofed it down the 12 floors and got out safely. Our Annual Board Meeting had ended a little while previous, so they were gone. There were two or three fire engines on the scene and even traffic was rerouted south on north-bound-only 9th Street. A fireman was unleashing a fire hydrant as I finally decided to leave the street-side gawkers. (Your Admin skillfully finished editing something, hit "print" faster than Matt Dillon gunned down the bad guys on Gunsmoke, shut down the laptop and got out so as not to be held hostage. Now, I am safely deployed at a secret, secure location.) Meanwhile, the Family Foundataion staff and the building's other tenants are taking an unexpected break, providing street vendors a Christmas bonus of potential coffee customers.

Within the year, the building passed into another chapter of its history, as it was bought by VCU, the state eating up yet more commercial property in the city. The state. The ever-expanding state. VCU uses only some floors now, and constantly brings in contractors for remodeling other floors. It has told tenants they will take over the entire building in time. So today's evacuation has a provocative metaphorical meaning. We hope to have pictures later today or tomorrow.

What Are The Odds?

What are the odds the Virginia Lottery has not been square its fellow Virginians on the actual odds of winning its scratch-off games? Scott Hoover, a Washington & Lee University business statistics professor, says at least even money. Hoover is suing the state gambling agency for refunds of $84.7 million for continuing to sell "scratcher" instant lottery tickets even when the top prize tickets get sold out (click here for an AP report on his suit). By law, The Lottery Department must publish the odds of winning for all of its games. Unlike the lotto games, where on the number of people who can select the winning numbers, the scratcher games are printed with a finite number of winners per batch. When a grand prize is won, those odds get steeper, yet the original published odds stay the same.

Hoover gives the "Beginner's Luck" scratcher game from last summer as an example. It had six grand prizes of $75,000. But when the last grand prize was sold on July 24, it continued to sell the tickets — 241,000 of them to be exact. Hoover knows this from his own investigation — he tracked the payouts from the game on the Lottery Department's Web site and received information from the department via a Freedom of Information Act request. In essence, the Lottery Department was sanctioning, according to Hoover, the selling of tickets in which the already infinitesimal odds of winning were reduced to absolute impossible because there were no more grand prizes left! In other words, a shell game!

The galling thing is, if all true, is that the Lottery orders new batches of the scratchers with the same original odds when the grand prizes are claimed. But instead of scrapping the remaining tickets and substituting the new batch, it continues to sell the old tickets to suck money out of unsuspecting and hopeful participants while the potential winning tickets are sitting in boxes!

This isn't like the two clowns on the classic television series Gunsmoke who couldn't figure their way out of a paper bag. By Hoover's analysis, the Lottery Department sold 36.8 million tickets after the grand prizes were gone in more than 47 scratch-off games since 2003. In his suit, Hoover asks not only for the refunded money, but that the Lottery Department be barred from selling "defective" tickets in the future.

If the professor is correct about all this, it will have implications beyond this particular form of state-sponsored gambling. There are many in the General Assembly who are hoping the impasse over tax increases for transportation and the thirst for more money will lead to their solution: The expansion of state-sponsored gambling in the form of "historical" horse racing — basically, video slots for horse racing.

We don't know what their odds of success will be. But the way the Lottery has been apparently fooling us all these years, don't think defeating it will be a sure bet.