December 13, 2018

Maine’s 30-Year Moose Lottery Should No Longer Be Called a Lottery

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Maine has made changes again this year to its moose lottery system that some are claiming will level the playing field so everyone wins, while others are calling the changes a short term gain resulting in a long time loss. However you look at it, the bitching will continue. It’s the nature of a lottery.

So what is a lottery by definition?

1. a gambling game or method of raising money, as for some public charitable purpose, in which a large number of tickets are sold and a drawing is held for certain prizes.
2. any scheme for the distribution of prizes by chance.
3. any happening or process that is or appears to be determined by chance: to look upon life as a lottery.

I think Maine’s Moose Lottery can fit into definition #1, as the lottery has been used by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) as a method of raising revenue for the department. However, I don’t think that “the distribution of prizes by chance” much applies any longer.

Since 1982, Maine has offered some form of a “lottery” in determining who gets to go on a moose hunt. For 2012 Maine will issue 3,840 permits to perhaps 40-50,000 applicants. At one point in time there were 95,000 applicants but that has since dropped to around 45,000.

That precipitous drop has puzzled MDIFW officials and Maine’s lawmakers as it appears they have no clear understanding of why. I’m sure it’s a combination of several things, i.e. wearing off of the newness, drop in interest due to many factors including many only want to try it once, dissatisfaction with the drawing process, cost, etc.

What is known about the lottery system is there’s a lot of complaining that goes on, especially from those who have never been drawn and/or see others having been selected by lottery several times and view the system as flawed or in some cases rigged. I have no reason to believe the system is intentionally rigged, but try telling that to the person who has applied for 30 years and not been drawn.

There is no solution to the perceived problems of the Moose Lottery. Most changes to the process usually only result in a slight shifting of where the complaints come from. Perhaps I can help to explain why there are difficulties.

The first and perhaps the biggest conundrum is that MDIFW tries to run the Moose Lottery as a revenue generator. We can’t blame them for that but doing so presents difficulties. One of those complications is that the moose population should be managed scientifically. Suppose management strategies are devised through processing collected data to determine information about the moose herd. Biologists then can recommend which Wildlife Management Districts (WMD) should harvest what sex and quantity of each. Thus, the issuance of permits by sex for each of the WMDs that allow a moose hunt.

Even though some of us might think using science to determine harvest requirements would be the difficult part of the equation, it isn’t. It’s the process of issuing the permits and keeping the masses happy.

In my mind, a true lottery would be an actual one chance, random draw, some win, some lose. I’m not a statistician but I’m wondering, in theory, if 40,000 people each bought one chance at a moose lottery and the same 40,000 people bought one chance for 30 consecutive years, how many of those 40,000 would never have been drawn a winner and conversely how many win more than once? Would the results be representative of what Maine’s Moose Lottery results look like now?

A straight up lottery wasn’t satisfactory and so changes began to unfurl and now the lottery more resembles a system of equitable redistribution than a “distribution of prizes by chance”.

Is it the responsibility of the MDIFW to generate revenue or provide hunting opportunities for all license buyers? Ask 50 hunters that question and you’ll get a divided response and 50 different explanations to support their claims.

If it is MFIDW’s job to make money, then we should just allow MDIFW to conduct a lottery for a moose hunt in the best way that will generate the most money. Perhaps auctioning off the 3,840 permits to the highest 3,840 bidders would pad the coffers nicely……..well, at least for awhile.

If it’s MDIFW’s job to ensure that Maine license hunters all get a chance to hunt a moose then the lottery system should be abandoned altogether. Either concoct some mocked down version of an “Any-Deer Permit” where all licensed hunters have a season, albeit a short one, or establish as simple as can be done a rotation method of selection. I’ll spare you the details.

The changes to the lottery are an attempt to approach equity in the system. In other words, to reduce the number (and I don’t know what that number is) of people who have never been drawn for a permit. This is what is being perceived as the driving force toward justice. The question I might ask is will the number of people who will be quieted by the resolve of their viewed unfairness be greater than those who will abandon the process altogether?

Which brings us to another problem with the Maine Moose Lottery – politics. Simply put, a grumbling and unhappy wannabe moose hunter is a potential new vote if some legislator somewhere can make them happy. Need I say more?

In a true lottery, where there will always be winners and losers and the losers, a percentage, will always complain, or a rotation device where everyone eventually gets a chance, will not stop the grieving. Griping is human nature but there might be less of it than what is being echoed now.

There are a lot of unanswered questions with the latest round of attempting to legislate fairness, most of which we won’t know the answers to until 5-10 years down the road, when the moaning and groaning begins to escalate once more.

Tom Remington

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