Thursday, May 18, 2000

Livin' La Vida Lotto




By LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Regis Philbin has only one question I can answer without using a lifeline. “Who wants to be a millionaire?” he shouts, pointing his finger at an obscene chunk of television-watching America — more people than those tuned in to 60 Minutes.

        The answer to his question, of course, is “everybody.” In fact, we are past wanting to be millionaires. A million just won't do in these tough times of gasoline at $1.60 a gallon and the Fed trying to pull the rug out from under our 401(K) accounts. We want to be multimillionaires.

        Even our Friends Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Ross, Joey and Rachel will be paid $35.2 million each by NBC. Their lovelife may be DOA, but they're definitely not broke.

        Less is not more.

        More is more.

Not rich enough
        Ohio's Super Lotto sales are slumping, surrounded as it is by states giving away real money. People are defecting to Powerball in Kentucky and Indiana and the Big Game jackpot in Michigan. A few million is just not enough to get people to stand in line any more. It has to be hundreds of millions.

        The recent $363 million lotto, half of which was won by a 47-year-old swimming-pool installer, is the richest in U.S. history. And if I could not win myself, I was happy to see Larry Ross collect.

        At first.

        In the beginning, he entertained friends with the Lottery Dance. “A lot of jumping up and down,” explained Mr. Ross, who took his winnings in a lump sum — about $90 million before taxes. After the lottery deducted federal and state taxes, Mr. Ross and his wife, Nancy, who live in Lansing, Mich., get $61.2 million.

        The other winning ticket was sold in Lake Zurich, Ill. That winner has not come forward. Still dancing, I guess.

        Meanwhile, Mr. Ross has begun to say things such as, “We are going to invest wisely.” This is the man who obtained his initial counseling from radio talk shows and stored the winning ticket in a plastic baggie. Now he has hired financial advisers, lawyers and tax consultants.

        Your wise counselors would not have advised you to buy $98 worth of lottery tickets at Mr. K's Party Shoppe. Your advisers would have told you that you had a bigger chance of winning a Tom Cruise look-alike contest than of winning the lottery.

Something silly
        Now, they will talk to you about annuities and trust funds and portfolios until your ears fall off. You don't need any advice. You could put your $61.2 million in a passbook savings account and still earn enough money to make your own mistakes. Please, Mr. Ross, won't you just do something silly?

        Do it for us poor schlubs reduced to watching people becoming millionaires by answering questions such as “What color is American cheese?”

        Buy that purple Jaguar. The last one made was a 1999 XK8 convertible with a sticker price of $71,500. A company spokesman said he is checking to see whether one is available, and “if not, we can always do a special order.”

        Have them do that, then fill the back seat with $5 bills and drive around letting the rest of us dream of our own windfalls. Send us a postcard from some exotic place. Buy a stranger bypass surgery.

        Demand artistic control when somebody wants to make a movie of the week about you. Insist on Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman to portray you and Nancy.

        Do something crazy.

        You have way too much money to take it seriously.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

        PULFER ARCHIVE