Local View: Migrants' dream: winning a jackpot

From the column: "The solution, of course, is to create opportunities in the many migrants’ home countries. But how?"


Prediction: Migrants, who are much in today’s headlines, will stop trying to cross our southern border when Minnesota outlaws all gambling in the state.


If you are an impoverished citizen of El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, or Nicaragua, your reality includes little to no hope. I have lived that desperation firsthand as an immigrant who came over on a boat and whose first home in the U.S. was a garage. I have seen it as a former Peace Corps volunteer in Latin America and as a sponsor of Cuban immigrants. Everyone hears of places “up north” where jobs are available, streets are paved with gold, grocery stores are full of food, and decent living conditions are available for all.

The desperation is so bad. Imagine the poor in Colombia disfiguring their children so when they go begging they get more alms than if they looked “normal.“

Being detained at the border isn’t so bad: You get three meals a day and a roof over your head — more than you have now. And who knows, you just might be able to sneak past the Border Patrol through a hole in the fence. At last count, 11 million have done something like that and now work in food-processing plants, clean houses and offices, do landscaping, or perform whatever other paying tasks are available.


They’re doing odd jobs to stay alive, with a spouse who also works, living in run-down sections of cities, maybe in Section 8 housing, and with a 10-year-old car that runs most of the time.

They hear about the mega-millions’ lottery, so they buy a couple of tickets for the heck of it. What’s there to lose but a couple bucks? The future is predictable: dying impoverished. So why not daydream and play the lottery or play the 21 Minnesota casinos with their 20,000 slot machines, all open 24/7?

We forget migrants are human beings trying to get into our country by hook or crook. Each hopes to win the jackpot to get them out of their present situation.

The continual flood of migrants coming to our shores cannot be stopped, just modulated, regardless of how many walls are built or border agents hired. Border agents work nine to five. Trying to get into the U.S. is a 24/7 occupation.

The solution, of course, is to create opportunities in the many migrants’ home countries. But how?

A friend of mine worked for an advertising agency that handled the Minnesota Lottery. His biggest challenge, he said, was making it appear that the lottery is fun for everyone while the reality is that it preys on the poor. For the migrant, the jackpot is getting across the border. For the domestic lottery player, it is buying the winning ticket.

The Journal of Gambling Studies reports that the lowest fifth in terms of socioeconomic status has the highest rate of playing the lottery and the greatest number of days spent gambling — while those of higher status play, or gamble, only an average of about 10 days.

Statistics from around the country show that most lottery tickets are bought in poorer neighborhoods, that more lottery tickets are sold in places with more minorities, and that towns with higher minority populations play the lottery more often.


Powerball is not the problem. It is the smaller games that have winners all the time. Most addicts need a hit once in a while. That is why Powerball, which gets all the publicity, pales in comparison to daily and instant games.

A lot of hope these days seems to revolve around winning something that’s unexpected and quick — like the lottery or being able to sneak into the U.S. to get something unavailable in your home country. To get to the U.S., my family and I spent five years in a displaced persons camp in Austria.

At local cafés, good-ol’ boys say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” But the best quote is from an unknown philosopher. It captures everything: “What comes easy won’t last. What lasts won't come easy.”

John Freivalds of Wayzata, Minnesota, is the author of six books and is the honorary consul of Latvia in Minnesota. His website is He wrote this for the News Tribune.

John Freivalds - new mug.jpg
John Freivalds

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