By Don McNay
“Son, I’ve made my living out of reading people’s faces, and knowing what the cards were by the way they held their eyes.”
— Kenny Rogers
Kentucky Derby week is one where gambling takes a forefront in my life. Along with the non-stop activities in my home state, I am speaking at a dinner for the Society of Settlement Professionals in Las Vegas and a film crew from Italy is flying in from Rome to interview me for a documentary about lottery winners.
My father was a professional gambler, but I went the other way. I help people who get large sums of money hang onto it.
Occasionally our two worlds meet.
I am a mediation and settlement consultant. I attend mediations and settlement conferences with injured people (or with insurance carrier who wants to settle an injury claim) and develop financial strategies to make sure that the money they receive makes their life better.
As I have noted in two bestselling books, and numerous articles, people who get big money from a lottery often wind off worse than when they started. The same can happen to injured people. Blowing through a big sum of money can make their situation worse.
I know in the first few minutes of a mediation if a person is likely to blow through their money. People ask me how I do I know that, it’s because most people give off obvious “tells.”
Just as the song The Gambler says, poker players often give off body language or signals that tip off what kind of cards they’re holding.
It the same thing in mediations and settlement conferences. I would actually pay the attorneys and clients to bring me to mediations as opposed to calling when after a case is settled, as I can spot problems and make corrections before they get money in their hands.
As the Son of a Son of a Gambler, I can spot a “tell” a hundred miles away.
Some obvious tells are:
1. People who have a large entourage. Entertainers like Michael Jackson or Elvis are known for attracting a large “posse” of people who want part of their money. The same thing happens to injured people but they are usually family and “friends.”
The larger the entourage, the more likely that one of them has their own agenda for the money. Especially if the posse include someone with a controlling personality or a new found “love” interest.
One of my first moves is to throw the “posse” out of the room when we get to talking about money. It’s horribly sad to see someone who is severely injured or lost a loved one in an accident.
It’s even more sad when other people get their hands on their settlement.
2. Another “tell” is already spending the money before they get it. I’ve seen people borrow lots of money and order expensive items before the case is settled. It’s not unusual for these people to have unrealistic expectations as to what they will receive.
An easy way to combat that is to show them published verdicts and settlements of situations similar to them. Just because a friend of a friend heard about someone who got $50 million for a bad paint job on their BMW does not mean it is going to happen to you.
3. If someone does not handle money well before a settlement, it is going to get worse when they do have more money, more decisions and more people wanting part of what they have.
I go through a simple and informal “check list” of where a person is financially. Do they have a lot of credit-card debt or seem to always “run behind.” If so, what can we do to prevent that from happening?
There are a number of mechanisms such as trusts, structured settlements and other ways to control money at the time of settlement. If they are interested in protecting themselves from themselves at that point, they never will be.
4. Are people clueless about possibly losing government benefits?
There are a number of health-care related programs designed to help injured people and many new ones to come when Obamacare kicks into full gear. If they are not diligent about protecting the benefits they have, they will not be diligent about protecting any award.
Finally, my biggest tell is the “lottery question.” I’m usually introduced as a lottery expert, and I ask people what they would do if they won the lottery.
Those who have a well-thought-out vision, such as educating their children, buying property or giving back to society will do well when they have a smaller sum.
Not having a vision is a major league “tell.”
As the song says, “you’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run.”
Looking for “tells” is a good way to find out which of those strategies work best.