Mutual funds versus blackjack

Dear Mark,
I've always felt that being in the stock market is the same as playing blackjack. They're both gambling. I might as well do something I love instead of giving some investment company my money to flush down the toilet. You're in gambling, do you agree? Ralph G.

Your analysis of comparing the stock market to blackjack is way off the mark. Entering the world of blackjack as a profession (investment) takes enormous work and you're playing against, if not for a better term, a financial institution that not only has a built-in house edge but is there exclusively to beat you. Come on, Ralph. How many people do you know who win at blackjack-consistently? Compare that to what a market like NASDAQ has done over the past 10 years. Gone up, up, up! Give me a dart board and the Wall Street Journal and I would have averaged 12% over the past 30 years.
I'm sure your next argument will be that of becoming a sophisticated card counter. Sorry, it's not worth spending hours in smoke-filled casinos, performing tedious mental calculations and disguising your play so you won't be thrown out-just for a one percent edge.
Finally, Dr. Edward Thorp, who wrote the classic Beat the Dealer was, as a professional, in the investment business. Even he conceded it is far easier to make money in the financial markets than at blackjack. Unfortunately, gambling is a poor man's way of investing, and even for the poorest of investors, a $500 wager in a mutual fund is a much better bet.

Dear Mark,
When the state lotto gets over $20 million here in California, my mother wants me to buy $10 worth of lottery tickets and then mail them back to her in Michigan. Is it legal for me to mail her the tickets? Roberta G.

Congratulate your mother for me, Roberta, for waiting till the lottery reaches $20 million before she purchases her tickets. Because the true odds of hitting the California lottery are 18,009,460 to 1, she's actually playing the game smart.
As for the legality of sending tickets through the mail, sorry, Roberta, using the United States Postal Service for this particular ruse is against the law. Millions do it, unknowingly, but I have yet to hear of one individual who has been charged, or convicted for sending lottery tickets by mail; NOT ONE! But if you want to play it straight, it's perfectly legal to use a service like Federal Express or Airborne Express.
Where individuals and businesses have gotten into trouble is soliciting you to play a foreign lottery. Ever get one of those plain white envelopes enticing you to play the Canadian Lottery, Roberta? Don't! It's against the law, again for the same reason. U.S. Postal regulations state that using the U.S. mail to solicit people to play the lottery, or even to distribute any type of lottery material, is strictly illegal.
By the way, there's a reason why their envelope on the outside doesn't give away what's on the inside. With a Canadian Lotto return address, it would be confiscated by the USPS before it reached you.

Dear Mark,
On a recent trip to Branson, Missouri, I stopped along the way in Kansas City and gambled for the first time. I was surprised to see both loss limits and two-hour cruises. Is that common? Bill K.

The loss limits and cruise times are in place to prevent problem gamblers from spending more than they can afford to lose. Currently Missouri is the only state with these restrictions. It is the wisdom of the Missouri legislature that by setting limits you won't blow your trip bankroll, you will have time to get religion and still have enough money to see Wayne Newton in Branson.