No really, this isn’t a joke. This might be the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, and I’ll explain why. There’s a poorly kept secret that winners of substantially large amounts of money often end up much worse off in life than before their big lucky day, with alarming regularity.
Perhaps it’s a result of the sample set, with people who are more likely to play the lottery being the ones least capable of properly managing their money. Or maybe it’s that money brings out the worst in people. Either way, if you just won the lotto, you better be very, very careful. You’re now SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to be the victim of:
- Drug overdose
- Convicted of drunk driving
- A defendant in a civil lawsuit
- A defendant in a felony criminal proceeding
- Homicide (20x more likely than average)
- Homicide at the hands of a family member (120x more likely than average)
Surprisingly, your worst enemy if you’ve just won a mountain of cash is going to be yourself. Managing that amount of money isn’t easy, and most people aren’t capable of doing so. Luckily you’ll have plenty of people around you standing by to help you with your downward spiral. Some of these people will be friends, neighbors, and family. Most of them won’t have any ill intentions for you, either. Unfortunately that makes little difference in the end.
Take Jack Whittaker, for example, possibly the best poster boy for the pitfalls of winning the lottery. In 2002, 55 year old Mr. Whittaker won, at the time, the largest single jackpot award in United States history; $315 million. After winning, he planned to life life as if nothing happened at all. That sounds incredibly modest and wholesome, but bear in mind Mr. Whittaker was already a successful business man worth over $15 million at the time of his winning. His plan to keep living life like he had been seemed rather plausible, as he should have been equipped to deal with that kind of wealth. By all accounts he was modest, low profile, generous, and good natured.
Nonetheless, Mr. Whittaker became the subject to many personal challenges, escalating into personal tragedies, complicated by a number of serious legal troubles.
Choosing the $170 million cash option, rather than the annuity, Mr. Whittaker pocketed $114 million after another $56 million in taxes. That’s when everything started to fall apart. Immediately he became the target of dozens of financial stalkers, who would hound him at his favorite diner where he ate breakfast everyday, accosting him with suggestions and ideas on how to spend his money. Some of them were unemployed, and an interview tomorrow wasn’t good enough. They needed cash THIS MINUTE. Others had a fool proof business plan, or family members with medical bills. Eventually Mr. Whittaker stopped going to his favorite breakfast spot all together.
Undeterred, these people started coming directly to his home, ringing his doorbell at all hours of the day, and even in the middle of the night. Letters poured in about people with cancer, diabetes, MS… The list goes on and on. It wasn’t long before he hired three people to help sort the mail, a detective to filter out the scams and con artists, and off-duty sheriff’s deputies to protect himself and his family. He was publicly accused of being heartless, cold, and stingy.
Even Brenda, the convenience store clerk who sold him the ticket was a victim of collateral damage. Mr. Whittaker wrote her a check for $44 thousand, and even bought her a house, but by no means was she a millionaire. Rumors circulated that the state routinely pays the clerk who sold the ticket 10% of jackpot winnings. She was hounded by people looking for handouts. She was followed home from work, threatened, and assaulted.
Mr. Whittaker’s car was broken into on more than one occasion, after people had seem him leave large amounts of cash in it. The first time, thieves spiked his drink with prescription drugs and made off with $500,000. The second time it was his granddaughter’s friends, who had been probing the girl for weeks about details about her grandfather’s money.
Even his good-faith and generosity were scrutinized. After offering $10,000 to help improve the city’s water park to make it more handicapped accessible, locals complained that he spent far more money at the strip club. They weren’t wrong, either.
To make matters worse, he was accused of ruining several marriages in his small West Virginia town. The claims were that anywhere he went his money made other men look inferior. Resentment among the locals grew quickly, and festered. Ultimately he paid four separate settlements related to these claims.
Whittaker’s family and their immediate circle found themselves repeated and frequent victim to drug overdoses, emergency room visits, and even fatalities. His eighteen year old granddaughter, to whom he had been giving a $2100 weekly allowance, was found dead after having been missing for several weeks. Her death was attributed to a drug overdose, but Whittaker suspected foul play, as her body had been wrapped in a tarp and hidden behind an old rusty van. Her 17 year old boyfriend had died 3 months prior in Whittaker’s vacation home, also from a drug overdose. His friends had robbed the house after his overdose, stepping over his body as they left. They then returned for more, while stepping over his body once more. His parents sued for wrongful death, claiming that Mr. Whittaker’s loose purse strings contributed to their son’s drug use and overdose. Historically, juries tend to award damages in these types of cases. Whittaker settled out of court once more.
Even before the deaths, the local police had taken special interest in Whittaker and his new-found fame. He was arrested several times for very minor offenses, despite having a completely clear record his entire life leading up to his winnings. His high profile was working against him in this regard. In 18 months he had been cited for over 250 violations ranging from broken tail lights on every single one of his brand new cars, to improper display of registration renewal stickers. A lawsuit charging various police organizations with harassment went no where, and Whittaker was hit with court costs and fees, instead.
His wife eventually filed for divorce, and in the process froze his assets, including several accounts used in the day to day operations of his business. Caesar’s Casino in Atlantic City sued him for $1.5 million to cover bounced checks, caused by the asset freeze.
As of today, Whittaker is badly in debt, and bankruptcy looms large in his future.
If you think that’s just one example cherry picked from all the happy people whose lives were improved by the lottery, you’re very wrong. Nearly one in three multi-million jackpot winners eventually declare bankruptcy. Some end up even worse of than that. To give you a sample of the possibilities, consider the fates of:
- Billie Bob Harrell, Jr.: $31 million, Texas, 1997. As of 1999: Committed suicide in the wake of incessant requests for money from friends and family. “Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me.
- William âBudâ Post: $16.2 million, Pennsylvania, 1988. In 1989: Brother hires a contract murderer to kill him and his sixth wife. Landlady sued for portion of the jackpot. Convicted of assault for firing a gun at a debt collector. Declared bankruptcy. Dead in 2006.
- Evelyn Adams: $5.4 million (won TWICE 1985, 1986). As of 2001: Poor and living in a trailer, gave away and gambled most of her fortune.
- Suzanne Mullins: $4.2 million, Virginia, 1993. As of 2004: No assets left.
- Shefik Tallmadge: $6.7 million, Arizona, 1988. As of 2005: Declared bankruptcy.
- Thomas Strong: $3 million. Texas. 1993. As of 2006: Died in a shoot-out with police.
- Victoria Zell: $11 million, 2001, Minnesota. As of 2006: Broke. Serving seven year sentence for vehicular manslaughter.
- Karen Cohen: $1 million, Illinois, 1984. As of 2000: Filed for bankruptcy. As of 2006: Sentenced to 22 months for lying to federal bankruptcy court.
- Jeffrey Dampier: $20 million, Illinois, 1996. As of 2006: Kidnapped and murdered by own sister-in-law.
- Ed Gildein: $8.8 million, Texas, 1993. As of 2003: Dead. Wife saddled with his debts. As of 2005: Wife sued by her own daughter who claimed that she was taking money from a trust fund and squandering cash in Las Vegas.
- Willie Hurt: $3.1 million, Michigan, 1989. As of 1991: Addicted to cocaine, divorced, and broke. Indicted for murder.
- Michael Klingebiel: $2 million. As of 1998 sued by own mother claiming he failed to share the jackpot with her.
- Janite Lee: $18 million. 1993. Missouri. As of 2001: Filed for bankruptcy with $700 in assets.
Now ask yourself, does this seem like the kind of life you envisioned when standing in line, waiting to buy those lottery tickets?