Several times in the last week, I’ve been nauseated by a radio commercial for the Missouri Lottery promoting its Big Mo Combo.

In it, a guy pulls up to a drive-through window of a fast food restaurant and the voice on the other side asks if he wants a combo. He asks what’s in the combo and is told that it includes two of this scratch-off lottery ticket, three of that scratch-off ticket, and several others — in fact, he’ll get $12 worth of tickets for $10. Eventually, the guy in the car says, “Well, I was going to get some food, but give me those lottery tickets!!”

That’s simultaneously the most honest thing I’ve ever heard in the promotion of a lottery and the most desperate. In order to make people buy lottery tickets, of course, you must promote the dream of becoming a multi-millionaire without revealing that the odds of winning are ridiculously small. You also have to get people into the lottery ticket-buying habit. You’re not going to keep the lottery going with occasional players — the ones who only get in line when the Powerball jackpot is over $200 million. You have to get people to play regularly, and you have to make people give up their food money to buy tickets, because the chance at a fortune you’ll never win is more important than not starving.

Lottery officials love the slogan, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

It’s a lot sexier than “You can’t eat if you don’t buy food!”

Previously on Harris Online…