06/16/2006 12:00AM

Winning millions a story we can all understand


You ever wonder if art imitates life, or does life imitate art? The answer is probably a little of both.

The thought came up after watching the premiere of the new TV show "Windfall" June 8 on NBC. The backbone of the show is a gambling aspect that strikes a chord with a lot of Americans - getting rich quick. In this case, a big lottery win.

The pilot for Windfall is based upon 20 friends and acquaintances who, in a get-together at a person's home, contribute to a lottery pool.

The collected money is then spent on buying lottery tickets and, lo and behold, the group wins the whole jackpot, $386 million. That should create enough storylines to easily last until the series goes into syndication.

"Windfall" imitates life, because since the inception of state lotteries in the late 1960's, there have been thousands of instant millionaires created.

In fact, many state lotteries have banded together in Powerball, which grows jackpots into much larger amounts than single-state lotteries and at an accelerated pace. The marketing strategy has been highly successful in fueling "Powerball fever" when the jackpot grows to ungodly amounts.

Here in Nevada we have Megabucks, which has made its share of instant multi-millionaires. In fact, Megabucks was won just a little over a week ago at the Cannery Casino up in North Las Vegas. The winner, who wished to remain anonymous, won $20,519,025. The woman had played only $12, four pulls on the Megabucks slot machine at the $3 max play, before winning the huge jackpot. The Megabucks jackpot is seeded at $10 million and grows until it gets hit.

Now where life can imitate art is if "Windfall" becomes a hit series for NBC. Then the weekly showcase becomes free promotion and publicity for any gambling endeavor that can guarantee a seven- or eight-figure cash payout.

It makes me wish that some creative mind in horse racing had hatched a show based on the $3 million Ultra Pick 6 win in 1999 by G. D. Hieronymus and the Breeders' Cup Newsfeed crew. To make the plot sexier, the win could be multiplied to $30 million, $60 million. Hollywood always allows for generous creative license.

The bottom line: It's a truth with human nature that "money won is sweeter than money earned." Another TV example of that axiom is the new hit game show "Deal or No Deal." Contestants have a chance to win up to a million dollars, with no IQ required.

If horse racing had a comparable TV game show equivalent, it might be "Jeopardy." It epitomizes the fact you need some brains to play this game.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies."