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Enter the world of Sokolow He enters it all -- but not just to win

He's won iPods, Oreos, dolls, T-shirts, football tickets, a cruise -- and a whole lot more. But the joy isn't in the prizes, it's in the endless pursuit.

August 28, 2007|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

New Haven, Conn.

Jay Sokolow can fill out 100 online contest entry forms in an hour with the click of his auto-saved name and e-mail address.

He leaves the radio on at work, holding a phone to each ear during breaks, speed-dialing stations during giveaways. He won so many times on one show that its producers instituted a once-a-month win limit: They call it the "Jay Sokolow law."

Other husbands might spend their free time golfing or gambling. To his wife's aggravation, Sokolow enters contests. Grocery store drawings, sweepstakes, trivia games, raffles, he enters them every day, except on the Sabbath -- Friday night through Saturday.

It is not so much the value of the prizes that entices him, but the probability of winning. There is a strange satisfaction, he says, in beating the odds, outsmarting the other players, and sometimes outsmarting the contest promoters.

Sokolow's obsession began as a teenager, when he spotted a jar of half-dollars on display in a bank window. He correctly guessed the amount of money in the jar and won a 10-speed bike. He estimates that since then he has entered more than 50,000 contests.

Sokolow's wife, Ina, halfheartedly accepts his contest-entering quirks.

"It annoys me in the evenings," she says. "I try to have a conversation and instead he's sitting on the computer."

She has put up with the useless prizes that have accumulated in their house over the years: 14 T-shirts from Coors beer, a case of Oreos produced before the cookies went kosher, Furby toys, an autographed toy race car, World Wrestling Entertainment posters, a jazz CD for lovers, a toy spy set, Bratz dolls.

When she can't stand it anymore, she gathers everything up in bags.

"We've outfitted the local shelter with T-shirts and hats," she says.

But Sokolow has also won gifts that his wife and children didn't mind: two tickets to any Frontier Airlines destination, along with $700 in American Express cards, tickets to the AFC Football Championships, a trip to a resort in Mexico, a family cruise to Jamaica and two tickets to the Super Bowl.

He won a white-water rafting trip but negotiated $5,000 for it instead.

"Can you see him on a white-water raft?" asks his wife, glancing at her 5-foot-9, 220-pound husband, barefoot in an extra-large purple button-down shirt, with grayish hair peeking from beneath his yarmulke.

Sokolow, 49, won a trip to a golf tournament in Scotland, but he forfeited because he couldn't get away from work. He won a trip to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and a lesson from professional poker player Annie Duke, but the Sokolows don't play poker, so they didn't go on that one either.

Recently, he received a replica of a ring that Johnny Depp wore in "Pirates of the Caribbean." It was the lesser prize in a contest for a Disney vacation or a pinball machine, but good enough. He gave the ring to his 16-year-old daughter.

The list goes on and on.

Ina, 49, talks in the kitchen on a Nokia cellphone, which Sokolow won. His daughter shows off a long-sleeve Yankees shirt she just received in the mail. He won that too. He has also won three iPods, two of which went to his 18-year-old son; the third he gave away as a bar mitzvah gift.

The red rotary phone near the couch, "The Incredibles" DVD in a stack near the wall, the CD player on the windowsill, the apple-shaped candy bowl in the living room -- he won it all.

"Most people come home and look at the mail, and they figure it's just bills," he says. "It's depressing. When I come home, I'm always eager to look at the mail because there might be something fun in there."

Sokolow is not a poor man. Nor is he a bored man.

He is a radiologist in private practice, and is president of his synagogue. He lives on a cul-de-sac in a leafy neighborhood in a town of 124,000, served by 30 City Council members, one of whom is his wife.

The home they share with their teenagers is two stories and gray, with a yellow sprinkler on the lawn and a Toyota Prius parked in front. Two 3-foot-high cement planters sit near the front door, prizes that Sokolow won along with gardening tools after he filled out an online form for a gardening company that has since gone out of business.

Sokolow grew up in the Bronx about a mile from Yankee Stadium and became a fan. But in high school, he spurned team sports. He joined the math team and his synagogue's youth group.

He majored in chemistry at Yale University, where he met Ina, an anthropology major. She remembers the day clearly. Both were eating in the Kosher Kitchen on campus. Sokolow sat at a table -- with his eyes closed -- showing off his ability to name the colors of M&Ms by taste. She didn't believe him, so she fed each color to him.

"Sure enough," she says, "he could identify them."

They married in 1985. Ina hardly noticed when Sokolow signed up for a few contest newsletters. He entered a raffle while she was shopping for shoes at a department store and won $500.

It wasn't until he got hooked on the Internet that his hobby became an obsession.

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