"That's a long shot," warned Angie, a 40ish, bearded man in a white knit shirt, white shorts, white sneakers and white sun visor. "A looooong shot."
Angie, who declined to reveal his last name, threw the good-natured advice over his shoulder as he strolled by a group of fellow poker players lined up at a specially installed cashier's window in the Normandie Club in Gardena, where the sale of California Lottery tickets had just begun to compete with five-card draw and low-ball.
Nobody was quarreling with the advice. They just weren't listening to it. Regulars who spend their days strategically hunched over the green-felt tables in Los Angeles County's seven legal poker clubs, bettors at Los Alamitos Race Course and some elderly Orange County residents who parlay only nickels on bingo cards, know that the lottery is a sucker bet compared to poker. But on Thursday, many of them seemed to want a piece of the buy-and-scratch action anyway.
At Los Alamitos, where more than 4,000 lottery tickets were sold in the first two hours, the line had stretched 200 feet from the windows just before the $1 tickets went on sale at 12:30 p.m.
"We really weren't expecting such big business," track information officer Sid Robinson said. "It's been really hectic."
Across the racetrack's cool cinder-block betting center and cafeteria, "early bird" bettors had staked out chairs to mark their picks for the night's harness races. On nearly every table was a stack of discarded lottery tickets.
Willing to Bet
"I might as well throw a couple of dollars in the lottery tickets, since I come here every day to play the Pick Six," said a Buena Park automobile company warehouse supervisor who declined to give his name lest it set a bad example for his co-workers.
Thursday's big spender was quarter horse owner Wayne Parente, who was busily scratching away and still barely making a dent in his $100 stack of lottery tickets.
"Hey, I'm just sittin' here havin' fun," said the 41-year-old Buena Park man, ignoring the leers of fellow track regulars. "Sooner or later it's got to hit. If I don't win here, I'll buy another hundred . . . ."
"Money makes money--I'm a firm believer in that," Parente philosophized as he scratched another card and struck out. "If you spend enough money, you'll win. Oh, you need a little help from heaven, I guess."
Parente, who also promotes events like the Rosebowl Flea Market and car shows, said he doesn't consider the racetrack betting gambling. "This is gambling," he said, gesturing to the lottery cards underneath his quarter, poised to scratch another ticket. "The Pick Six isn't; I do my homework. Now I may have to spend $2,000 or $3,000 to win. But I do . . . ."
The Laundry Bill
"Luck is when you spend $2 and hit big," he said, grimacing at the built-up shavings on his hands, the table and his clothes. "Heck, $2 wouldn't even take care of the laundry."
Caution, it seemed, was thrown out the window for many in Orange County, including people who live on a financial shoestring.
In Westminster, Gisela Salas, 67, and her husband, Julio, 68, had already received their daily fix of bingo at a Westminster senior center.
Retired and living on fixed incomes from monthly Social Security payments, the Salases joined a small group of elderly residents who spent Thursday morning nursing their bingo cards.
When the lottery ticket windows opened, they drove, caravan-style, to a nearby Lucky's grocery store to buy tickets.
"We wanted to buy lottery tickets here because Lucky's is lucky," said one of the seniors.
"We do this because it's a good time," Gisela Salas said.
Her husband, however, accustomed to gambling and playing lotteries in Cuba, his native country, had more of a motive: "Yeah, but it gives us a chance to win the big jackpot, too!"
Many in the group have, at one time or another, bought 25-cent chances on "Bolito" (Little ball), the illegal "numbers" games run in Puerto Rico or have bought lottery tickets from other countries.
One Westminster resident who bought $10 in lottery tickets Thursday also pulled several Puerto Rican lottery tickets from his wallet.
"I'm in both lotteries now," he said, grinning.
The Salases vowed to return next week to the grocery store and play again despite winning only $4 on two tickets Thursday. They bet $15 and showed a net loss of $11.
Compared to poker, the odds of winning even a modest amount of money in the lottery are poor. For example, the odds of winning $100 in the lottery are 4,000 to 1, while the odds against being dealt five cards that form a full house--normally hard to beat--are 693 to 1.
Only 50% in Prizes
Critics also point out that because of expenditures for schools and administrative overhead, only 50% of the money spent by lottery players will be returned as prize money, a figure far lower than in most forms of gambling.