Money For Nothing, the book

Money for nothing Edward Ugel has written a light breezy memoir entitled, Money For Nothing: One Man's Journey Through The Dark Side Of Lottery Millions. Ugel describes his career as a lump sum salesman to lottery winners who rather than wait for the annual annuity check decide to sell their win to a financial investment company for a lump sum.

Ugel describes how the lump sum salespeople prey on the weaknesses and character defects of winners to make their sales and collect thousands in commissions. Turns out Ugel has a gambling problem himself and so part of what makes him a successful salesman in this bussiness is that "it takes one to know one."

The thing that makes this book palatable is Ugel's self denigrating stance, his humor, and his humility. He is aware of his problems and he knows that at once they are his greatest assett and his greatest deficit. He makes no bones about it and seems honest in a way that is refreshing and kept me reading to the end.

The book is disjointed and written like a high school term paper, but enjoyable nonetheless and gives the reader an inside glimpse of the underbelly of state lotteries, the people who play them, and the people who prey on the unfortunate winners.

VLTs, the gambling "crack"

Vlts Today, in Batavia, NY, at Batavia Downs, the harness racing track is opening for the first time ever VLTs, Video Lottery Terminals, which work like slot machines. There are almost 600 new machines installed, and when the Downs opened at 10:00 AM there were over 700 people in line.

This gambling venue is operated by the WROTB, Western Regional Off Track Betting Corporation, a department of New York State. It is predicted that the VLTs will attract enough gamblers for the harness racing to become financially viable once again as well as make oodles of money for WROTB and the State.

The problem with this scenario is that the State of New York is promoting an activity which has many negative social consequences. Gambling can become problematic for some and addictive for others. It is estimated that lifetime prevalence rates for problem/compulsive gambling is about 3% of the population. Problem/compulsive gambling causes problems for individuals, their families, their employers, their creditors, their communities leading to bankruptcy, divorce, embezzlement, theft, and suicide. In the Genesee/Orleans/Wyoming county region, of which Batavia is in the center, there is a population of about 145,000 people. With a 3% prevalence rate we would predict that there could be as many as 4,500 people who in their lifetime will have a problem with gambling.

In the June, 2005 issue of the Journal of Gambling Studies there is a report of a study about the effect of VLTs which are equipped with a "stopping device". If VLTs have a stopping device it gives the gambler the illusion of control, selection, and skill in operating the terminal which involves the gambler further in the illusion of being more likely to win. This entices the gambler to get more involved in the gambling activity and may contribute to more compulsivity.

"Two studies investigated the effects of a video lottery terminal stopping device on gamblers thoughts and behavior. This structural characteristic allows players to voluntarily stop the spinning of the reels. The first study investigated the effect of this device on the development of illusions of control. It was predicted that players using the stopping device would believe that (1) symbols displayed could differ depending on when the game is stopped, (2) there is a possibility of controlling the outcome of the game, (3) skills may be a factor influencing the results, and finally (4) a stopping device would improve the probability of personal success (i.e., developing the illusion of control). The second study aimed to further evaluate the effects of the stopping device on gambling behavior. It was hypothesized that using the stopping device would encourage players to increase the number of games played in a session. Results confirmed all predictions and showed that offering a stopping device on video lottery terminals modifies gamblers cognition and behavior. The theoretical and practical implications of these results are discussed in the context of responsible gambling policies."

I don't know whether the new VLTs at Batavia Downs have "stopping devices" on them or not. I'd go over there and find out but it is very crowded on opening day.

The politicians think that gambling is a windfall for the state and for Batavia Downs which it may well be, but individuals, families, and society will pay the price for the problems it creates in people's lives as well. These "costs" of ruined, and tormented lives tarnishes the allure and glamour of an activity that may not be all that it is promised to be.

Is gambling an assett to a community and add to the quality of life or does it detract from what would otherwise be healthier individual, family, and community life? What is harmless entertainment and recreation for some can turn into a mean spirited demon that has a dark side which torments and ruins the lives of others. The idea that the gambler can "stack the deck" and control gambling outcome with a stopping device is a pernicious con that exploits people in a manipulative and disengenuous way.

Link: SpringerLink - Article.