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Jack Smith

On being rubbed the wrong way by the state lottery and other get-rich-quick schemes

August 25, 1986|Jack Smith

My wife bought a lottery ticket the other day at the market, but, as I had predicted, we didn't win.

When the lottery first began she was buying several tickets every week, but I soon persuaded her to quit squandering our money.

I explained to her that the odds against winning $10,000 or any higher amount were so great that buying 100 tickets a week would not appreciably affect them.

Whether one won or not was a matter of sheer chance, and whether one had one ticket or 100 tickets didn't affect that chance in any realistic way.

"Then why buy one ticket?" she asked me.

"Because," I explained, "you at least are in the game. You have just about as good a chance as if you bought 100 tickets, and it has only cost you a dollar, not $100."

Somehow my argument didn't appeal to her. She stopped buying tickets altogether.

"Did you buy a lottery ticket this week?" I asked her once.

"No, I don't see much point in it."

"We could win $10 million."

"If we did win $10 million," she said, "how would it change our lives?"

"Ten million dollars would change my life," I told her.


"Well, first, " I said, "I'd pay off the mortgage on the boat. Get out from under that monthly payment."

"Then what?"

"The rest," I said, "I'd probably spend foolishly."

I was thinking of the old joke about the fellow who went through a small fortune and told a friend, "I spent about half of it on booze, women and horses, and I must have spent the rest foolishly."

I'm sure that many people's lives could be improved by the winning of $10,000, but I'm not sure that anyone needs $10 million.

That much money would merely make most of us indolent, sybaritic and greedy. What a millionaire wants more than anything else is more money.

So I am worried about my friend and Hollywood correspondent Duke Russell.

Duke is a nice man. He has a nice wife and family and he enjoys life. He is curious and intelligent. I think he is happy. He really needs nothing more.

Now he has sent me a copy of some junk mail advising him that he "may have just won $1 million in cash."

Enclosed is one of those certificates, with a gold stamp, that says "Pay Mr. Duke Russell One Million Dollars."

It isn't a real check, of course, since Duke hasn't really won yet, but just a guarantee that if his number is chosen he will win $1 million at the rate of $40,000 per year for 25 years.

Or, if he prefers, he can win "The Millionaire's Lifetime Pleasure Passport," which would give him $20,000 in cash plus $10,000 in free air travel and $10,000 in expense money every year, so he could travel with the jet set and live like the rich and famous.

All he has to do to be eligible for this loot is fill in the enclosed entry blank. (A magazine subscription blank is enclosed but you don't have to subscribe.)

Evidently Duke is going to go for it because he asked me to send the stuff back.

"I can't tell you," he writes, "what it would be like to win a million dollars, but I can tell you this: I'm pretty excited right now because I'm in the running. I know the odds of winning are astronomical, but someone has to win. It could be me. . . .

"Certainly you and Denny will be invited to the bon voyage party aboard the QE 2 if my number wins. . . ."

I can tell him that my wife has already been advised, several times, that she "may have won $1 million," but so far she hasn't won so much as a package of marigold seeds.

I don't think Duke really needs the money, and unless he really wants the magazine, I advise him not to subscribe.

If his house is as cluttered as ours is, one thing he doesn't need is another magazine.

I have never had any expectations of winning anything. When I was about 8 years old I won a tricycle at the Saturday afternoon movies. I was with two younger cousins. I was holding all three tickets because I was afraid my cousins couldn't read the numbers. It happened to be my number, which I was holding in the middle, that was called out from the stage. When we got home both of my cousins claimed that their tickets had won. The issue was adjudicated by two aunts, and I was relieved of the tricycle.

It was too little for me, anyway, and since then I've never tried to win anything. I was a very honest boy, and I resented being accused of cheating my cousins.

When I was 12 I won, without trying, a fired clay vase that was symmetrical and would hold water. Otherwise it was of no use to a 12-year-old boy. My mother didn't care for it, but it stayed in our family for years, symbolizing the height of my good luck.

But most people think of life as a wheel of fortune. It is always spinning like the glittering wheels at Las Vegas, and sooner or later it will come up with their number and they will be on Easy Street.

I hope Duke doesn't win the million dollars.

I like him the way he is.

I wouldn't want him to be rich and famous.

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