Money for Nothing

Money for Nothing by Edward Ugel delves into the dark side of lottery winning. Dark side of lottery winning? How could winning a large sum of money have a dark side?? Well, Ugel explains it quite simply–money has more value when it is earned. When it is “free money”, it tends to lose it’s value.

My husband has always said that the lottery is a tax for people who are bad at math, and Money for Nothing illustrates that point beautifully. Not only does he explain a little bit about how the lottery works (basically, a for-profit gambling entity run by state government), Ugel also explains how winners never really win the whole amount advertised in the jackpot, how revenue generated by lotteries tends to replace, rather than add to state budgets, and other unpleasantness the “You’ve Got to Play to Win” people don’t bother to tell you.

He then explains his part in the business–buying out winners remaining payments. Until recently, winners had to take their winnings in annual payments over 20 year terms. Imagine winning $2million dollars, but only seeing it in $70k annual payments ($30k goes straight to taxes). Now in my world, $70k would enable me to quit my job, get a new car, and enable us to save a lot of money toward our daughter’s education. Heck, if we planned it out, we could even adopt another child and buy a new house. But would it be life changing money? Not really. Would it enable us to buy cars and houses for our relatives? Not really. Send all of our nieces and nephews to college? Not really.

But life changing money is what ALL lottery winners expect. After all, why else would you play the lottery?? That’s where Ugel and the company he calls The Firm comes in. The Firm buys your annual payments at a discounted rate, basically giving you instant cash. The deals can range from fair to ridiculous, depending on the winner’s situation and amount of money he needs. Truth be told, taking your lottery winnings in a lump sum is smart, because your winnings don’t earn interest until it’s paid out to you. Compare $1.5m you invest for 20 years to $1.5m you get paid out over 20 years. Lump sum is the way to go–even though the initial payout is smaller. Theoretically, once the money is yours than it can work for you and be life-changing money, if you know how to manage money.

Before reading this book, I never gave the lottery much thought, or what happens to lottery winners. The concept of the “lottery industry” wasn’t on my radar. Ugel makes it interesting, rather compelling actually. I found the parts about the lottery and the industry more interesting than toward the end of the book where he talks about exiting the industry. While reading his first person account, I understand why he had to get out–but that part of the story moved more slowly than the rest of the book.

I liked his first hand questioning of whether or not it’s appropriate for states to have such an upfront role in promoting gambling among it’s citizens. He makes valid points, and doesn’t come off as “preachy” because he’s a gambler in recovery himself. While working for “the Firm”, Ugel spent his generous commissions at casinos and gambling, a habit that was very common among his coworkers as well. They were living the “lottery lifestyle” as well, as a direct result of preying on lottery winners. He makes a compelling argument that the lottery is more dangerous than casinos because of it’s very availability and wide publicity by the very organization that’s supposed to have citizens’ best interest in mind.

Money for Nothing is a good diversion from my usual chic-lit, and I think the book would particularly interest readers interested in non-fiction, and those in sales. My husband likes to read autobiographies and non-fiction, so my copy has been passed over to his night stand. The book is officially in stores and on sale today, check it out online at, and at

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