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Edward Ugel Headshot

MegaBucks Mean MegaProblems

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I like to gamble. I used to like it a little too much, like Elvis did bacon. So, I'm hardly waiving the abstinence flag over here. I am however, amused by the media attention this week's huge Powerball and Megabucks lottery jackpots are generating. Sure, we'd all like to come into $300 million. But at what cost? If the lotteries continue to force winners into the spotlight by naming them publicly, the price of winning is simply too high.

For most, playing the lottery is an amusing way to throw money down the drain. For those "lucky" enough to win, it's an unexpected nightmare. I'm in position to know. I used to purchase lottery annuities for a living. I know what life's really like after the lottery snaps a neophyte winner's picture, puts away the oversized check, and sends them home to the wolves.

Believe me, you're better off without the trouble.

The vast majority of states do not allow winners to claim their prizes anonymously. Not only are most winners unprepared to handle the realities of such a windfall, but, thanks to the lotteries, winners are forced to live their post lottery lives squarely in the public eye. Why? Marketing, publicity, advertising, and sales. The state lotteries have sales goals, just like a privately held business. The public's ability to see new winner's faces and know their names drives business. Forget the fact that using new winners for publicity largely devastates winners' lives. To the lotteries, business is business. They sell their product with marketing savvy and sales methods as venomous as any in the private sector. For the lotteries, it's sell first, worry about the winners once the receipts are tallied. But, unlike private businesses, the lotteries are state run. The states should know better. they should be held to a higher standard than the private sector.

This week, both the Powerball and Megabucks jackpots exceeded $300 Million. In other words, we're talking Oprah money. And, when the stakes get that high, the local and national media plug in, feeding us our own fantasies the same way foie gras farmers feed their ducks. They shove it down our throats.

We live during the lottery's zenith, and we seemingly can't get enough. Every news segment about lottery fever has the same canned images: the clerks, the lines, the lottery machines printing out ticket after ticket. There's the obligatory shots of players holding tiny pencils, agonizing over their numbers as if defusing a bomb. Yet, these stories, which drive lottery sales figures, look past the dark underbelly that comes with winning. What happens to the precious few who become lottery winners?

Well, we know they get to stand there with that big check. We know that the lotteries keep telling us how great life is for winners. We should also know that they've got nowhere to hide. Anyone who wants to find them can. And, it should come as no surprise, a lot of folks want to get in touch with someone who just came into millions of dollars.

Thanks to the lotteries policy of publicizing new winners' names, massive odds say they won't end up living happily ever after. Very few winners sail off into the sunset. Most end up staying right where they are, surrounded by sycophants, con-artists, salesmen, family, and friends. If the lotteries were to change their policies and allow winners to claim their prizes anonymously, many of the problems winners face would be eliminated.

For years, Michigan has allowed its winners to claim their prizes anonymously. Recently, Delaware has followed suite. If more states act in kind, winners will have a shot at what they've always been promised: the good life.

This week's Powerball and Megabucks jackpots are so big that winning actually means riches beyond your wildest dreams. Winning a million dollars, paid out over twenty years is often a recipe for trouble. Winning $300 Million...I'd take a shot at that life. You can make a lot of boneheaded moves with $300 million and still be happy.

Play if you want. Win if you're lucky. But, no matter how much you win, if your state lets you, keep it to yourself.