AT LARGE: Fine print

I bought myself an instant lottery ticket the other day and managed - despite the odds - to win absolutely nothing. It was one of those "long playing" ones with several different areas to be scratched. This obviously increases your chances of taking away a prize to the point where at least some money is virtually inevitable. I got nix. Which, I later realised, was something of a reprieve. To wit: the game was entitled "Win For Life", a noble ambition and one in which I would love a part. In the fine print, however, it read, "If you find the words ‘Win For Life' three times in this panel you win $100,000 a year for 10 years".

My blood ran cold. What if, heavens forbid, I had won? For a decade I would live like . . . well, not so much a king but maybe the top half of middle management. Then what? "Life" is defined as 10 years! I thought only the department of corrective services used such a definition. What happens when the 10 years is completed? The lotteries office has made a commitment I should win for the remainder of my natural life and the lotteries folks are folks of their word.

I expect I would have been visited after those 10 years by a large person with an oddly shaped nose, but otherwise unmemorable features, who would have bopped me on the head or somehow finished me off. What a reward for my $4 and a few minutes of scratching.

From now on, I read the fine print before I enter a contract. At least I learned this lesson relatively painlessly - again, thank the heavens I did not win - unlike some friends of mine who signed up for "free" Internet access. Unlimited time - it said - unlimited downloads. All you get charged for is a small, tiny even, "connection fee". They even compared the "connection fee" with that charged by other ISPs and found it extremely favourable. Fine, my friends said, and signed.

Fine print: the "connection fee" applied not only when they activated their account, but every time they connected. It was indeed a small fee, but it quickly added up to an expensive Internet experience. I won't name the ISP involved because the matter is "before the courts".

The court may well find that my friends signed a legally binding contract that spelled out the terms and charges - just in real-little letters. How to get reparation then?

I suggested sending the ISP

lottery tickets.

Matthew JC. Powell is willing to bet he can give up gambling. Tell him the odds on