Purely by accident, Edward Ugel spent his late twenties and early thirties working among some of the nation’s most infamous gamblers and lottery winners. For seven years he worked in various sales and marketing positions, including his last three plus years as a Senior Vice President of The Firm, a lump sum finance company that buys winnings from lottery winners on Monday and sells them at a markup on Tuesday. It is a completely unregulated, massive, multi-million dollar a year business that most Americans don’t even know exists.
Ugel left The Firm in early 2006. Since then, he has written for The New York Times and contributed to Public Radio International’s This American Life. He is an invited resident blogger on The Huffington Post where he writes about business, pop-culture, media, politics, and gambling. His book, Money for Nothing: One Man’s Journey Through the Dark Side of Lottery Millions (Collins) takes readers behind the scenes of the exclusive high stakes world of the lottery and lottery winners. From the states which relentlessly promote this form of legalized gambling to the guerilla sales tactics of the lump sum financing business to the often outlandish and larger-than-life winners themselves, attendees of Ugel’s speaking engagements will never see the lottery in the same way again.
In Money for Nothing, Ugel tells of his tenure at The Firm and the ridiculous lengths to which they would go to locate and sell to lottery winners. Ugel details the closing techniques which he’s cultivated over the past decade and parleyed into a multi-million dollar payday in this industry. He tells the wild true stories of the winners whom he has worked with over the years and reveals the sordid politics and business tactics behind the lotteries themselves. He talks about the addiction – even after winning – that winners have for their lottery fix and of his own desperation to close deals to keep him in gambling money. The film rights to Money for Nothing have been optioned by Warner Brothers, and producer Michael De Luca (21, Austin Powers, Magnolia, Seven, Boogey Nights), and Tobey Maguire (Spiderman, Wonder Boys, The Cider House Rules). Screenwriter Peter Steinfeld (21) is writing the screenplay.
In the book and his presentations, Ugel reveals the truth behind the state lotteries: they are not the friendly, benign distraction that their commercials project. Instead, the states themselves run the most pervasive and insidious form of gambling in history.
Few people have had the type of access, the insight into winner’s minds, their wallets, their real lives that Ugel has had for the better part of a decade. In the past decade, he has traveled the country meeting with lottery winners in every corner of the nation.
Ugel has also contributed to the radio show, This American Life, with Ira Glass. In April 2007, his life story was featured on the show. In addition, he has appeared on numerous NPR radio shows including On Point and Talk of the Nation. He has been featured on the popular CBC national morning TV show Sunday. He is also a resident blogger for The Huffington Post and a contributing writer for the New York Times and The Washingtonian Magazine.
He now writes full time and spends every second possible with his wife and two-year-old daughter. They live in Bethesda, Maryland.
Praise for Money for Nothing:
“Money for Nothing took me into a world I had no idea existed. For anyone who’s ever dreamed of winning the lottery, this is a terrifying look at what really happens when someone hands you that huge cardboard check. Ugel’s writing style is terrific – anyone who’s ever found himself sobbing into a scotch glass at a casino at three in the morning is going to identify with the highs and lows of this compelling story.”
– Ben Mezrich, New York Times best-selling author of Bringing Down the House and Busting Vegas
“A fascingating and rollicking journey into a world most of us don’t know exists. Written with rare honesty and humor, Money for Nothing shows how being a gambler makes a good salesman even better, reveals the peculiar thrill of closing a deal, and most surprisingly, explains why winning the lottery is sometimes the worst thing that could happen to anyone.”
– Alex Blumberg, Producer, This American Life
“Mr. Ugel's roller-coaster ride makes for dizzying, sometimes harrowing reading. Confessional, un-self-protecting and bitterly funny, it exposes the human failings of his customers, his colleagues and himself, in a personal memoir of greed and hope.”
– The New York Times
“His tale is a colorfully written account by a self-proclaimed overweight, chain-smoking, Krispy Kreme doughnut-eating, fanatical gambler . . . .You will lick your chops, eager to hear the sordid woes of winners gone broke from spending sprees.”
– USA Today
“An added twist to Mr. Ugel's sordid -- and highly engaging -- tale is the fact that he was himself a compulsive gambler. So while he was encouraging lottery winners to sell him their checks at a discount, his commissions were disappearing at the tables in Atlantic City and Las Vegas.”
– The Wall Street Journal
“A jackpot of sleaze and hilarity.”
– The Oregonian (Portland)
“Money for Nothing is Ugel's outrageous and often very funny account of the years he spent gouging lottery winners for whatever he could take.”
– New York Daily News
“This funny, eye-opening memoir explores the American mania for gambling and the dark side of hitting the jackpot.”
“A breezy, funny writer....Maybe this eye-opening book will galvanize a movement....By turns amusing and alarming.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Ugel's natural showmanship makes for entertaining reading. He does little to pretty up his misdeeds (heck, they were legal) and offers comical vignettes of his rendezvous and run-ins with prospective clients while delivering a well-deserved scathing indictment of the government-backed lottery system.”
– The Library Journal