Thomas Schattenfield was telling me about a prize his son won at a recent Hot Rod Show.

"They called him from Las Vegas to say, 'The ticket you filled out at the show has been drawn as one of the lucky winners.'

"When I asked what had been won, he told me all the wonderful prizes, starting with a motel room and free tickets to this and that, and I just let him go on because I kind of thought there was a hook in it somewhere, and that eventually we'd come to it. And sure enough, we did."

"What was it?" I asked.

"A small service charge of only $59.50," Schattenfield said.

"Wow!" I said. "The cost of winning has gone up. That gimmick was $12 when I first encountered it.

"Later they raised it to $18 -- in other words, in the era in which a motel charged an off-season rate of $10 or $12 for a room, it would work out a deal with a promoter under which it would let 'winners' have the room for two nights for $18.

"The rationale was that few people will spend the money for fare to Florida or Nevada for a vacation of only two nights. Once they're there, they tend to stay on for a while. And when they do, the motel gets a good return on a room that would otherwise have remained empty. The rest of the stuff, the free tickets or discounts on meals and so forth, was merely the kind of promotional package that can be found in almost any city."

"So now the service charge of 'only $18' has become a service charge of 'only $59.59,' because of inflation," Schattenfield mused. "If that outfit gets only 20 'winners' a day to send in their so-callled nominal service charges, they're going to be raking in about $1,200 a day -- which isn't a bad day's pay."

"Very true," I said. "I'd consider working for $1,200 a day -- provided I got two coffee breaks and there was no heavy lifting involved. Tell me something. I believe you said at the outset that when you were hearing about all the glorious prizes your son had won, you suspected there was a hook in the deal somewhere. What made you suspicious?"

"I used to be a d.a.," he explained. "I was an assistant United States attorney long enough to know that one who is really the winner of a random drawing is not asked to pay out money to qualify for claiming his prize."

Note: Contests, sweepstakes and drawings have been held for many, many years. Some are conducted by nationally known companies, some by fly-by-night outfits. Some are completely legitimate, some are not. The phonies offer just enough value to make it difficult for prosecutors to get a conviction. You may win something, but it is often of less value than you thought, and almost always of less value than the money the promoter will get out of the deal.

P.S.: If Reader's Digest notifies you that you've won a ton of cash, congratulations? I guarantee that the Digest won't ask you to send it a mere $59.50 in advance to cover the cost of handling and postage. VOLUNTARY LAWS

The financial section of yesterday's Washinton Post told us the Hunt brothers ran the price of silver up to $50 an ounce on borrowed money "at a time when the Carter administration and federal banking authorities were trying to stop speculative loans in order to fight inflation."

The story said, "Since last October, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker has been urging lenders not to make loans for speculative purposes."

"Urging?" Good heavens, this administration really does believe in the Tooth Fairy, doesn't it? Let's not be beastly to the Soviets, let's be patient with Iran and let's curb inflation with high interest rates and voluntary wage and price guidelines. Good grief!

Gentlemen, I hate to be the one who brings you the bad news, but there ain't no Santa Claus. Voluntary rules are obeyed only by ladies and gentlemen who already have so much money or so much power or so much territory that they don't feel inclined to exert themselves to obtain just a wee bit more.

Keep in mind, however, that if the opportunity to gain a lot more presents itself, ladies and gentlemen very often rise above principle and begin clawing to get the biggest cut of the pie before greedy people gobble it all up.

In an era in which even laws punishable by two consecutive death penalties followed by five consecutive life sentences are defied, we are still "urging" people to obey guidelines voluntarily! For goodness sake, can't anybody here play this game?

Sam Goldwyn said a verbal promise isn't worth the paper it's written on. It's a pity Sam isn't here now to give us his perceptive analysis of the value of voluntary laws.

Gold's Law urges that voluntary laws be written on typewriters with blank keyboards. But that's not mandatory, of course.