Money for Nothing: The Dark Side of the Lottery

A review

I have never won the lottery. Not really sure what I would do if I did, really. I think I would pay down the house, and maybe buy a new bicycle. I think I would buy Lynn and me a couple of new laptops, and certainly, the kids would get new bikes as well as some new clothes, but I am not a big car kinda guy, nor am I a big house kinda guy. I don't drink, and I don't gamble, and I have no desire to buy into horses, boats or racecars. I have a sneaky suspicion that Edward Ugel would hate me.

]Money for Nothing coverMost folks who win the lottery discover some cruel realities about money and the state-sponsored gambling we know and love: the money doesn't come to you all at once--it dribbles in, usually over twenty identical payments sent out every year. Uncle Sam wants its cut, and finally: the money rarely buys happiness.

The irony is that most folks who win the big one are, typically, gamblers. Gamblers, as a rule of thumb are not the most money-conscious folks out there.

When the money inevitably runs out, lottery winners turn to people like Mr. Ugel to get them out of their fiscal disasters. He was an expert at "selling" lottery winners out of whole chunks of their winnings by buying out their jackpots, or a portion thereof, for pennies on the dollar delivered as cash upfront.

It isn't that the author is an evil person. Indeed, his clients need his services, by the time he comes calling. Just like the loan shark from the old neighborhood, he provided a necessary function, but that doesn't mean that the shark slept soundly.

This is the story of one man and his roaring addiction to money and the lottery, told from the side of those who live off of those who have actually won the lottery. Along the tale, we are introduced to others with the same addiction, winners and losers each and every one. Coworkers, bosses, and hapless folks who wanted nothing more than financial security, but discovered that spending or gambling money is incredibly addictive.

I genuinely enjoyed this book. It's not that it's a fast read (although in truth it is,) but rather that it's a fascinating read. The characters are very vididly portrayed, to the point that upon finishing, I felt the odd sensation of knowing Ben, his arch nemesis and erstwhile mentor, but not having a clue what the guy actually looked like. His writing is just flat out funny, and his take on the historical basis of Lotteries in America should be required reading for every state legislator out there. He makes some very, very accurate assessments of the will and intention behind the lottery system, including video-poker machines, which can easily be as addictive as crack cocaine.

If you have ever plunked down that dollar bill on the counter for your Megabucks ticket, you would do well to read this book. If you happen to win the lottery, please do yourself a favor and read this book before claiming your prize. Heck, read this book before telling your spouse. It might just save your friendships, your marriage and your sanity.

As a side note: A good chunk of this book takes place in Portland, at a bar called Claudia's. This happens to be about 10 blocks from our home, and is my father-in-law's favorite sports bar in Portland. Ed's description of the joint is indeed apt, but we know it as a place for a good glass of wine and a basketball game.

We don't play the video-poker when we are there.

JJ Ark is the husband of site founder Lynn Siprelle, and publisher of TNH.