Photo courtesy of Matthew Anderson.
Statistically speaking, people are more likely to win an Oscar, be killed by a mountain lion, or become the next president of the United States than hitting the jackpot in the lottery. However, this doesn’t stop the masses from flocking to the corner stores and purchasing lotto tickets by carefully picking their favorite numbers or scratching off the carefully selected card.
For the majority of these people, they imagine what life would be like after a fortune of money gets thrown into their lap. They envision themselves diving into a room full of gold coins in the fashion of Scrooge McDuck, brushing off, hopping on a white horse, and living happily ever after as they ride into the sunset.
Most of these fantasies never come true. The lottery ticket purchasers read about the winners throughout the country, have a few brief moments of envy and then move on with their lives. However, once the cameras have left the lucky winners, they must face the harsh realities of being responsible for an unexpected fortune of money.
For many of the lottery winners, this is too much to bear and they, for reasons that may or may not be in their control, end up worse off than they did before striking it big. This is known as The Lottery Curse – a superstitious epidemic so deadly, it has left some people in the grave.
Most recently, two young brothers from Wichita Kansas won $75,000 from a winning ticket. Instead of celebrating over a cocktail or two, the two decided to go out and purchase marijuana and crystal meth. The former does not seem too out of the ordinary and usual consequences result in increased video game usage and intake of Funyuns. On the other hand, stories that start out with meth usually end up like a scene out of Breaking Bad and this one is no exception.
One of the brothers decided to use a butane torch to light their bong without using the necessary precautions when dealing with combustible substances. The torch started leaking gas in his kitchen and once the butane made its way to the pilot light in the furnace, the house exploded, leaving one brother in the hospital and the other in jail; one of which was wearing a lottery t-shirt when it happened.
The two brothers had a small taste of what can be the downfall of too much money in too fast of a time. Their measly 75 grand was breadcrumbs compared to the millions won by people that strike the jackpot. Evelyn Adams from New Jersey was lucky enough to win twice in 1985 and 1986, totaling to a hefty sum of $5.4 million. Perhaps thinking her luck would never run out, Adams continued gambling in Atlantic City and would go on to lose every last cent in slot machines. She now lives in a trailer park without a dime to her name.
Adams’ story is not uncommon amongst the lottery winners. They become their own worst enemy after receiving the money because they don’t realize that even millions of dollars can eventually run out. People that win need to be careful how much they spend on their own but also should be weary of those around them.
In the summer of 1997, Billie Bob Harrell Jr. was working at Home Depot and was just about broke when he played the Texas Lotto and hit the jackpot for $31 million. Harrell had a large heart and didn’t plan to spend all of the money on himself. He donated a large sum of the portions to his church, took his family on extravagant vacations, bought cars and houses for family and friends and purchased 480 turkeys to donate to the poor.
The public acts of decency unfortunately brought the leaches out from society who wanted to suck his fortune dry. Harrell soon had to change his number several times from the non-stop harassment people were giving him demanding money, which soon lead to the separation of he and his wife from the overwhelming stress. An additional blow to his torment was a bad investment with a company that exchanges lottery winners’ annual payments with a lump sum that ended up taking away a large portion of his winnings.
A short twenty months after Harrell woke up and became multimillionaire, his son found him with a self-inflicted gunshot. Shortly before he took his own life, he was quoted saying, “Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
So if the lucky winners aren’t able to trust themselves or the general public, they should be able to trust their own family, correct? Well, things aren’t always that easy.
William “Bud” Post III’s upbringing sounded like it was stolen out of a Dickens novel. His mother passed away when he was eight and grew up in an orphanage. From there, he drifted from place to place working menial jobs throughout the country. On a whim, he decided to buy some lottery tickets at a point where he had $2.46 in his checking account. One of the tickets had the right numbers and Post found himself $16.2 million richer.
Within two weeks of receiving his first annual payment, Post spent the majority of it on business investments for his siblings. One of his brothers must have thought this was not enough and hired a hitman to kill Post so he could inherit the winnings. Though the hit was unsuccessful, the bad luck did not stop there.
Throughout the next decade, Post would be sued by an ex-girlfriend for a third of the total winnings (which she won), have a judge freeze his assets, make continuous bad investments and serve time in jail for firing his shotgun at a bill collector.
One setback after another resulted in the Dickens-esque story being swapped out with a Shakespearian tragedy. When he passed away in 2006, he was $1 million in debt, living off of social security and was quoted saying that he was happier when he was broke.
Another winner by the name of Jeffrey Dampier seemed to develop a way to successfully thrive off of his winnings. When he hit $20 million from the Illinois lottery, Dampier not only purchased houses and cars for his family and friends, he started a gourmet popcorn business as a way to sustain an income on top of the winnings and provide jobs for his loved ones.
His story may have ended up with a happy ending but the curse caught up with him when his sister-in-law kidnapped Dampier with her boyfriend. They believed the scheme might have ended with the claim to his fortune, but things don’t typically work out in these scenarios. Dampier was murdered and they received life sentences in prison.
Some of the aspects of these stories are extreme, but their situations are far from being outliers amongst the grand spectrum of the winners. Financial advisors, Michael Begin and Darl LePage have found that 70 percent of people that win the lottery lose their fortune within a few years while witnessing the relationships of those closest to them become destroyed along the way.
This isn’t to say that these things can’t be avoided. The problem that the winners face is that they are typically average Joes that do not know the responsibility in dealing with large sums of money. Once they receive the payments, they go out and spend it on new toys without looking for ways to comfortably sustain their income and relationships for the future.
In order to avoid losing everything, there are certain precautions people can do to assist in setting up a balanced foundation. One of the most important things to start off with is to avoid instantaneously going out and living like a Saudi prince. The money will go quicker than MC Hammer’s music revenue. Another key step is to set up a trustworthy, validated financial advisement team and take at least six months to plan out a strategy and weigh options for the future of the winner and their family.
No matter the precautions, there will always be risks when it comes to dealing with incredible sums of cash, but these risks can be worth it. Not everybody that finds their matching numbers come across the television screen are doomed. Spending the money modestly, utilizing the help of legitimate professionals, and avoiding the hoopla of celebrity are easy first steps to enjoying a new, unexpected life.
The white horse and the sunset are waiting. The winners just need to avoid breaking the horse’s back before they reach their destination.