"Son, I've made my living, out of reading people's faces and knowing what the cards were, by the way they held their eyes." - Kenny Rogers
Gambling takes a front burner in my life during Kentucky Derby week. On top of the normal home state hoopla, I am also speaking to the Society of Settlement Professionals in Las Vegas and an Italian film crew is flying in from Rome to interview me for a documentary about lottery winners.
I don't speak a word of Italian, but I am always up for an unusual experience.
My father was a professional gambler and I went the other way. I encourage people to save, not gamble, but occasionally my father's world meets mine.
I am a mediation and settlement consultant.
I attend mediations and settlement conferences with injured people (or with insurance carriers who wants to settle an injury claim) and develop financial strategies to make their life better.
As I note in numerous books and articles, people who get big money from a lottery often wind up worse off than when they started. The same can happen to injured people.
Things happen in meditations and settlements that give off clues as to how likely they are to blow their money.
Poker players frequently give off signals that tip off the kind of cards they have.
It is the same thing in these conferences. I would actually pay the attorneys and clients to bring me to meditations as I can spot problems and make corrections before they get money in their hands.
In that pressure-filled environment, I can quickly spot "tells" as to how financially sophisticated a person is.
There are some tells that are obvious. For example, it's dangerous in any large money situation when people have a large entourage. Entertainers like Michael Jackson attracted a large "posse" wanting part of their money. The same thing happens to injured people.
The larger the entourage, the more likely that one of them has their own agenda for the money. Often, I throw the "posse" out of the room so that the victim can make a decision with the advice of attorneys and trained professionals.
Another "tell" is when people have money spent before the case is even settled. I've seen people borrow money, sometimes at high interest rates, and order expensive items before the case is settled. It's important to be a calming influence to keep them from jumping at a settlement that is not fair value.
The other situation can occur too. It's not unusual for these people to have unrealistic expectations as to what they will receive.
If someone does not handle money well before a settlement, it is going to get worse when they have more money, more decisions and more people wanting part of what they have.
I go through an informal "check list" of where a person is financially. Do they have a lot of credit card debt or seem to always "run behind?" If so, what can we do to prevent that from happening?
There are a number of financial mechanisms to control money at the time of settlement.
I also want to make sure that people are aware of government benefits and programs and what it takes to keep them.
There are a number of programs designed to help injured people and many new ones when Obamacare kicks in full gear.
Finally, my biggest tell is my "lottery question." I ask people what they would do if they won the lottery.
Those who have a well thought out vision, such as educating their children, buying property or giving back to society, will probably do well.
Not having a vision for their money is a major league "tell."
As the song says, "You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run."
Looking for "tells" is a good way to find out which of those strategies works best.
Don McNay is a mediation and settlement consultant based in Richmond Kentucky and New Orleans. He is the author of five bestselling books, including Life Lessons From The Lottery.
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