It tells you everything you need to know about Rhode Island that the state lottery commission is located next to the state prison. All Rhode Islanders are born with a lottery gene, and if the “CSI” franchise ever moved to Rhody, the celebrity forensics experts would discover silver latex ink under our fingernails, smoothed-over edges on our nickels, pennies and quarters, and a tendency to defy the laws of probability in our DNA. That’s the only way to explain the obsession with PowerBall numbers, scratch cards and Keno games in the Ocean State, which happens to be number one in lottery sales per capita in the country. Here, residents think that all Ping-Pong balls come individually numbered, scratch tickets are the perfect stocking stuffers at Christmas, and meeting regularly for late-night coffee and Keno at the corner convenience store is considered an acceptable date.
This gambling fixation is as old as the state itself. Even before The Lot opened in 1974, Rhode Island embraced the notion of taking a chance, any chance, anytime, with whatever money was leftover in the pocket. One example: The part of Westerly known as Avondale was once called Lotteryville until the 1880s, because original settlers received their houses as part of a lottery scheme.
But Rhode Island’s true lottery legacy is the scratch ticket, most of which involve familiar characters or offer a theme. The latest features Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” which seems about 30 years too late for it to be so popular – except that in New England some things, like pewter and Steven Tyler, never really get old. In the past you could also buy scratch games for “The Three Stooges,” “Family Guy” and The Crypt Keeper (host of “Tales from the Crypt”). The state legislature even allows the lottery to make money for good causes through its scratch ticket program. Two years ago, the R.I. State Council on the Arts had a scratch card that raised funds for local arts organizations and communities. It was followed by a “Scratch the Tick” game, with part of the proceeds funding tick awareness programs.
Lot of Art
A Providence artist has found a way to make something of value from all of those shredded hopes and confetti dreams. Rebecca Siemering’s “A Fine Suit,” made from more than 1,000 discarded scratch tickets and representing over $3,500 in gambling losses, was presented as one of the Providence Art Windows in 2007 and now stands in the offices of its new owners, Fidelity Investments in Smithfield.
Siemering, now the director of Providence Art Windows, began creating additional objects out of lottery cards, while developing installations for other projects that represent some of the most intriguing art being made in Rhode Island. Among them: Her latest art window, “piece(work),” a time-based installation on Eddy Street, and “The Bells Ring for Thee,” still decaying in the North Burial Ground as part of the Cryptic Providence group installation. For her window, which she visits and works on weekly, she designed a “crazy quilt” that reflects the news of the world and the buzz of conversation around Providence. For the graveyard, she created a landscape of sound in an adjacent field, “planting” rows of metal flowers that played a vibraphone’s range of tones in the breezes, gusts and rainfalls that filled the seasons.
The Rhode Island corollary to Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” theory is that in the future every Rhode Islander will appear on his own scratch ticket. Until then, we have plenty of opportunities to add to the state’s rub out culture. How about:
“Scratch What, Netop?” (To repair the fingers on the statue of Roger Williams in Providence’s Prospect Terrace Park and to develop a foundation that will supply the statue with permanent maintenance and a lifetime of replaceable fingers.)
“Scratch That Nuke.” (To entice another Russian nuclear sub to dock in Providence and serve as the city’s Russian Sub Museum, since the previous one sank, was scrapped and is being recycled into millions of toasters and electric razors.)
“Scratch That Kirk.” (To refund the R.I. International Film Series after William Shatner canceled an appearance last-minute to receive the first ever Nathaniel Greene Humanitarian Award in Rhode Island, causing the festival to give back $5,000 in advance tickets.)
“Scratch That Hound.” (To bail out the state’s beleaguered greyhound-racing industry.)
“Scratch a Buddy.” (To put a little extra cash in Buddy Cianci’s pocket in exchange for favors to be named later.)
Now it’s your turn. What would be a good subject for the next R.I. Lottery scratch card?