WNYT.com

Powerball: the pleasures and pitfalls

Posted at: 11/28/2012 11:53 PM
Updated at: 11/29/2012 11:38 AM
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY - Coming in to a large sum of money can be a delightful blessing or a giant bother. It's something that was experienced by an Albany family more than seven decades ago.

At the height of the Great Depression, 1936, Fannie Lebowitz of Albany held a winning ticket in the Irish Sweepstakes.

"In those days, $150,000 was enormous," said Joel Levy of Albany, Lebowitz' grandson, who was 4 years old at the time. "It probably matches what is being offered tonight ($550 million in the Powerball jackpot).

"When she won it, her main statement was, 'I want to make everybody happy!'" Levy recalled. "And of course, she meant the family."

The problem was people from all around the world thought Lebowitz intended to make them happy -- and they contacted her in a seemingly endless barrage of Depression-era messages from people begging for money.

"They all wanted a piece of the pie," Levy stated, holding a box full of letters, postcards and telegrams on his lap.

There was a litter from a 10-year-old boy in Maine who wanted money for boarding school and from a blind woman in Illinois who needed eye surgery and from an Iowa farmer who was left homeless and hungry by the Dust Bowl.

"Some of them probably were true," Levy acknowledged, "but I'll bet any amount of money that most were not true."

Seventy-six years later, millions of Americans are lining up hoping for their dream, but at what price?

"There's nothing wrong with someone having a dream, but lots of times dreams get shattered," said Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling.

Maney says he's concerned because when everyone is paying so much attention to multi-million dollar Powerball jackpots, there's not enough talk about people with gambling problems.

"As long as we can talk about dreams, we have to talk about what's on the other side of dreams," Maney says, "If (people) lose all their money, what happens?"

Maney says there are plenty of signs when someone has a gambling problem including stealing the money used for gambling or lying to friends about what's happening to all their money.

Maney says there are at least one million New Yorkers who have gambling problems and lotteries can make matters worse.

"We don't want to see people become problem gamblers," he continued. "We don't want to see problem gamblers become pathologic gamblers and we don't want to see social gamblers become problem gamblers."

If you have a gambling problem or if you are a friend or family members of someone who needs help with a gambling problem, you can contact the New York Council on Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369).

(Editor's Note: Fannie Lebowitz is the great grandmother of NewsChannel 13 reporter Dan Levy. Joel Levy, interviewed for this story, is Dan's father.)