An industry insider dissects the dire social consequences of America’s gaming culture.
Ugel worked in a particularly unsavory corner of the lottery business, a private, lump-sum company that offers winners a quick hit of cash if they sign over their annuities. As he points out, these are hardly the only sharks in the gambling ocean. Lotteries date to antiquity, and our founding fathers were all heavily involved in their implementation or promotion. Today, gambling is more pervasive and more acceptable than ever. More than half of all American adults play at least once a year, and teens think gambling for high stakes is perfectly normal. Canny lottery executives regularly introduce new, zippier and more addictive games. PR departments know that citizens like to hear about lotto proceeds going to state education, but the author reminds us that lottery money doesn’t increase a state’s actual expenditures on schools; it just allows legislatures to appropriate a smaller portion of the state budget to the three Rs. As for actually getting lucky and winning, his text backs up the old saw about folks being happier before they won. The newly rich are pursued by friends, relatives and sharp businesspeople out to take advantage of them. For many, lottery wins lead to lawsuits. One woman’s septuagenarian husband filed for divorce as soon as she hit the jackpot, successfully claiming he should get half the money, since she’d used his $20 to buy the ticket. A breezy, funny writer, Ugel made “multiple six figures” during his days in the industry, but most of it is now gone: “It’s as if I never had the money in the first place. I’m as jealous as you are.” He’s also pessimistic, short on suggestions of how Americans might challenge the lottery industry. Maybe this eye-opening book will galvanize a movement.
By turns amusing and alarming.