Let the Good Times Roll

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” – Everett Dirksen

Remember Stephen Wilkinson, who, back in January of this year, thought he had won a $102,000 jackpot on a 25-cent Wheel of Fortune slot machine at the Philadelphia Park Casino? “Not so fast, Stevo baby,” said the casino’s management, who insisted it was all a big mistake – a “communication error.”

The casino explained that the slot machine had malfunctioned and erroneously flashed a sign announcing that Wilkinson had won. When he complained, casino officials offered him and his wife two comps to its (ugh!) buffet. Wilkinson now says he might have dropped the whole thing had the casino at least offered to comp them to dinner at its steakhouse.

However, since it did not, he decided to file a complaint with the Pennsylvania State Gaming Board, and the ensuing brouhaha became a national news story: Blue Collar Guy takes on Daddy Big Bucks. I’m told that casino officials probably would have won if the matter had gone through the courts, but that was no longer the issue. The focus had become the bad publicity the casino was getting nationwide.

Had the Philadelphia Park Casino remained steadfast, the $102,000 probably would have looked puny compared to the lost profits resulting from customers staying away in droves. Which is why the casino thought better of it and forked over the $102,000 to Wilkinson.

End of story? Not quite. Let’s not let this one slip away without extracting some valuable lessons.

Lesson No. 1:

The odds are that the casino could have eliminated the Wilkinson pimple with a steak knife had executives not been so dull-headed. For $75 or less, they could have had the Wilkinsons yukking it up in the casino’s steakhouse, chomping away on shoe-leather-grade sirloins, and lifting their glasses of cheap house wine in a toast to their generous compers.

But once Wilkinson’s nose had been rearranged by the thought of going through a buffet line with the casino’s other victims… er, I mean customers… a cheap solution was no longer an option. If they had it to do over, of course, casino bigwigs would have been happy not only to treat Wilkinson to a side of beef, but also to hand him a $1,000 goodwill check on his way to dinner.

Unfortunately, hindsight is a synonym for “too late.” The bird in the hand looks awfully good after it’s already left your hand. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to blow someone off without analyzing the cards he has at his disposal. There’s a reason why the old adage “pennywise, dollar foolish” has been around since time immemorial.

Lesson No. 2:

Inadvertently or intentionally, whichever the case may be, Mr. Wilkinson underscored the efficacy of my 10 Sacred Rules of Success: Ask… ask again… ask again… and so on, until you become a genuine pain in the ask!

Giving credit where credit is due, once he got miffed by the buffet insult, he became like a dog with a bone – a bone that turned out to be worth $102,000. Imagine being handed a hundred grand without producing anything of value to anyone. What a great country, right?

Lesson No. 3:

Which brings me to Lesson No. 3, perhaps the most important lesson of all. No, the U.S. is not a great country because a hard case occasionally wins big bucks from a slot machine, horse race, or state lottery. On the contrary, when people aspire to “get lucky” by engaging in such activities, that is precisely what’s wrong with modern-day America.

While barbarians around the world (as well as in this country) spend every waking hour plotting to slaughter us, we are anesthetized by that great American phenomenon known as The Artificial Good Life – no savings… easy credit… sun ‘n fun vacations… high-ticket sporting events… electronic toys… dumbed-down reality TV… and on and on it goes.

The Artificial Good Life bears no resemblance whatsoever to The Substantive Good Life that once made America the most admired country in the world – hard work… saving… actively participating in sports and other healthy and meaningful activities… and, above all, putting your time and energy into enjoying home, family, and friends.

Enter Stephen Wilkinson, a new-millennium product of The Artificial Good Life. Wilkinson is a “retired carpenter.” Retired carpenter? Why in the hell is a carpenter retired at age 56? I’m older than 56, and I’m not retired!

Maybe he has a disabling injury. But, if so, no one in the media has mentioned it. And if he does have an injury, it doesn’t seem to prevent him from wandering through casinos and pulling on slot machine levers.

Next question: What is Wilkinson doing in a gambling casino anyway? Over the next 14 years (through the age of 70), you can be certain he will give back the $102,000 he “won”… and a lot more. Remember, the $102,000 (really only $60,000 or so after the tax authorities finish with him) will already be spent, so the money he “gives back” will actually be from his own pocket.

Why do I believe the money will be spent? Because Wilkinson announced that the first thing he and his wife intended to do with their windfall was take a vacation in the Bahamas! Can Best Buy and pricey tickets to the NBA finals be far behind? Let the good times roll.

In contrast, imagine the amount of money carpenter-turned-aristocrat Wilkinson could earn between now and the day he turns 70, and what he could accumulate through wise investing. It would be interesting to follow up on the whereabouts of the Wilkinsons five or 10 years down the road, but I doubt anyone will remember them by then.

Just something for you to think about as you make your day-to-day financial decisions.

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