07/30/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Lottery in Life: Pat Sajak and Adventures in Gambling


I'm not one to normally buy lottery tickets. I've bought fewer than 25 in my lifetime, all of them scratch cards I impulsively selected based on my mood and unreliable intuition. Sometimes I get the birthday-themed cards, but the karmic ramifications of me cashing in on someone else's birthday privilege always give me pause.

I've never won more than $11 in a single card, and even that seemed like a big deal. The people who win big money playing the lottery are like those who win Volkswagen-sized stuffed animals at the carnival -- in other words, they're not me.


But this morning, I bought four $2 Wheel of Fortune lottery cards from a sweet Indian proprietor of a small convenience store next to my train station. According to the back of the tickets, my purchase "benefits New Jersey education and institutions."

That description seemed a little general. After all, Bruce Springsteen is a New Jersey institution, and he certainly doesn't need my $6. But a visit to the NJ Lottery website fills in all the blanks. According to a pretty pie chart, 56% of lottery revenue goes to prizes; 35% toward state contributions; 9% toward vendors; and less than .01% to under-fingernail silver dust cleaners.

Why Wheel of Fortune? Well, because Pat Sajak owes me, or so I figure.

In 1991, I was living in North Hollywood, California and decided to audition for the world's most popular game show. When you're unemployed in most parts of the country, you apply for a new job. In Los Angeles, you audition for game shows.


About a year later I was wearing my Dad's double-breasted dinner jacket and spinning the big, heavy wheel as if my entire fate hung in the balance. I wound up in the dreaded third-contestant position, and won only a VCR as a consolation prize. The other two contestants won $40,000 and $25,000 respectively. My new VCR started chewing tape after three weeks.

You can vicariously relive my doomed "Wheel of Misfortune" experience -- including the puzzle that could have won the show for me -- here.

The first lottery card I bought Like typical scratch cards, it teased me by coming oh-so-close...then the bottom dropped out. It makes me wonder: if lottery cards are truly programmed randomly, how can they be so sadistic? Lottery game law: When you need three of anything, you almost always get two of everything.

I immediately thought, "Odds are if this one's a loser, the next one might be a winner." Of course, I said the same thing about Al Gore.

I bought two more tickets. One was a dud; the other was...a $2 winner.

The little newsstand began to take on an Atlantic City ambiance. Naturally, I was compelled to sink that $2 back into the Wheel. As the nice lady sold me another card, she wished me luck.

This card was a $3 winner! I was now only down $3 total!

"Can I buy a vowel?" I asked her.

She looked at me, confused. I bought a paper instead

I had to catch a train, so the $3 winning tickets sits in my pocket, awaiting exchange for cold hard cash. Will I impulsively sink that money into yet another card, or will I use it more pragmatically to pay for an eye-dropper's worth of gasoline?

Time will tell, but I've already done my part to support my state's education and institutions. I like to think I do that all the time, but now have the metallic-gray fingernail stains to prove it.