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Colorado Springs corruption detectives sniff desperation of lottery ticket clerks

Colorado Lottery, don't forget to payYou’d think Colorado Springs’ many kleptocrats, considering our locale’s famously embarrassing lower than average IQ, must be stupid enough to get caught. Other than the odd treasurer with a gambling habit, law enforcement is not going after them. Instead, according to an article in today’s Gazette, local detectives are policing convenience store clerks, exposing the corruption of workers who have to tender anything over a five into a time-lock safe. A Colorado Lotto sting operation busted two out of twenty clerks surveyed this weekend who pretended their customers had losing tickets, and who later tried to redeem the tickets for themselves. One of the corrupted employees worked at the west side Farmcrest, now she’s on the lam, so I have a personal interest in calling the sweep an entrapment.

Obviously. In her shoes, a likely pretty awful daily grind, what might you have been tempted to do?

Here’s how it worked: the special Lotto detective, yeah, I carry a badge, hits random ticket outlets, equipped with a trick ticket which when fed into the Lotto equipment registers as a $100,000 winner. This is handed to each clerk under the pretext that the pretend-ticket-holder wants to know if his/her ticket is a winner. If it is, hurrays all around, the secret shopper leaves congratulated without further ado. If the clerk palms the ticket, inserts a bum ticket kept handy, and tells the mystery shopper theirs is a dud, the detective returns to the office to lay in wait for that clerk to visit in person to claim to the “prize”.

Now the story doesn’t say that particular clerks were targeted based on flagged irregularities, or for having redeemed a suspicious percentage of winning tickets, or for having entered the same non-winning ticket at repeated intervals during the same work shift. Actuarial predictors could probably narrow the hunt, but there the prey becomes perhaps too crafty. Instead the mystery shoppers cast a wide net, sweetened with a $100,000 lure.

You may think I’m too soft on a miscreant clerk betraying her fellow poverty-wage peers, those who tithe what they can’t afford for the regular vicarious, virtual delusion that any successive investment in the lottery could deliver them into riches. Perhaps it’s more obvious to her than to most that with lottery tickets the payoff is in holding the ticket, the dreams you entertain, before you confirm it’s very very unlikely to be worth more than nothing. Perhaps she knows the only way you’re going to quit the destructive habit is to lose the last umpteenth time. I know in Cripple Creek when I saw a slot machine paying out, or heard someone tell of returning from Las Vegas with a positive cash balance, I thought, oh no, that only encourages the idiots. Perhaps a lottery sales clerk gets to know her regular customers and knows how severely each cannot afford the deprivations which their gambling compels.

Of course the Lotto secret shopper is not going to be confused for a regular. But who knows what profile undercover officers project. Maybe they’re nasty customers, someone a clerk would hate to see win. I have no idea. Imagine you are that detective, eager to trip someone up, with the scruples of a condescending law enforcer who suspects all. I’ll bet you’d be as rude as your undercover video camera allows. If the clerk isn’t alerted by your undercover behavior, it might be the creepiness of your insincerity that prompts her to tell you your ticket is not a winner. Her disdain may even be compounded by the factor that you can’t even verify the ticket yourself at the DIY kiosks. On top of that you’re an asshole.

At the core, what you’ve done is dangle $100,000 in front of a clerk who earns minimum hourly wage, who’s not permitted to work more than 20 hours a week and thus has to hold two or three jobs, earning no overtime. You’ve targeted a person who is cannon fodder for armed robbery holdups, without cause. It’s a tribute to the average clerk’s honesty, or a sign of their heightened state of fright, that more do not fall to temptation.

The Colorado Lotto’s pretense for exemption from the state’s otherwise fairly puritanical isolation of gambling communities is that it’s tolerated because it funds Colorado’s park system. The contrivance of this Lotto police sting operation suggest the program also aims to supplement municipal and correctional system coffers.

You tell me whether publicizing such successful stings gives people more or less comfort in the lottery’s integrity. I’d be inclined to say no. If the Lotto really wanted, system safeguards could easily subvert the best efforts of dishonest clerks.

I draw consolation in thinking this entrapment scenario prompts an obvious defense for my poor Westside victim. She told the undercover shopper that the ticket was not a winner. In fact it was not a winning ticket, it was a fraud.

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