Rip up the winning ticket? Reasons winning lottery can destroy lives

Study says 70 percent of lottery winners go bankrupt

By Keith Dunlap - Graham Media Group
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With the Powerball jackpot at $625 million going into this weekend's drawing, Americans everywhere might be dreaming a little.

OK, dreaming a lot.

But before thinking that winning the lottery would solve all your problems, think again. There have been numerous stories of how people’s lives actually changed for the WORSE by winning millions. 

Yes, I know you are thinking, “Try me,” or that “I’ll just remain anonymous.”

In this day and age of social media, good luck with that. Word will travel fast, even if you aren’t on the news being announced as the big winner.

For some people, as hard as it is to believe, their problems only began with the fame and fortune that came from winning the lottery.

Here are five reasons why:

Everyone will ask you for money.

And by everyone, we mean EVERYONE. And the requests won’t stop -- ever. They could come in the form of phone calls, emails or knocks on your front door. The short list will include the following:

  • Family members you haven’t heard from in years, but all of a sudden are calling you their favorite brother, sister, uncle, aunt, or cousin.
  • Friends or acquaintances, possibly some of whom you stopped hanging out with a long time ago, who can’t wait to see their “old buddy” again. Coincidentally, they at the same time will likely talk about how there’s a debt or a bill they can’t pay off anytime soon. 
  • Investors who know full well you have some money, and pitch you on a “can’t miss” investment opportunity. All it takes is for you to give them a huge amount of cash and the process to “more millions” gets rolling. 
  • Charitable organizations of all sorts. It’s noble for anyone who wins the lottery to want to give back, and it’s usually a part of the lottery fantasies for many. But all the world’s problems can’t simply be solved by lottery winnings, and you will have to say "no" at some point to avoid going broke.

In 2006, Sandra Hayes won the Missouri Lottery, splitting the $224 million prize with 12 coworkers. She wrote a book called “How Winning the Lottery Changed My Life” and said in a 2012 Associated Press article how hard of an adjustment it was after winning.

“I had to endure the greed and the need people have, trying to get you to release your money to them,” Hayes said in the article. “That caused a lot of emotional pain. These are people who you’ve loved deep down, and they’re turning to vampires, trying to suck the life out of me.”

Abraham Shakespeare, who in 2006 won $17 million in the Florida Lottery, said so many people were asking him for money that he reportedly told his brother, “I’d have been better off broke.”

Becoming a target

After winning his jackpot, Shakespeare met a woman named Dee Dee Moore, who reportedly wanted to write a book about his experiences and manage his money. 

In 2009, Shakespeare was killed, and his body was found under a concrete slab at the home of an acquaintance of Moore, who was arrested in connection with Shakespeare’s death. In 2012, Moore was sentenced to first-degree murder and life in prison. 

Moore reportedly set up a foundation with Shakespeare, but took $1 million to buy herself cars and a vacation package. 

Urooj Khan, of Chicago, won a $425,000 lump-sum lottery payment in 2012. But before collecting his winnings, he dropped dead. An autopsy revealed he died of cyanide poisoning and police ruled his death a homicide. Police are still looking for the people responsible. 

Craigory Burch won almost $435,000 in the Georgia lottery in November 2015. Two months later, he was found dead in his home from gunshot wounds after robbers entered his house and demanded money. 

Jack Whittaker won $90 million in a 2002 Powerball jackpot, but he had more than $500,000 stolen from his car while at a strip club.

Granted, it probably wasn’t a good idea to leave half a million dollars lying around in the car, but the burglars knew full well who he was and were ready to pounce when given an opportunity.

While these are a few extreme and tragic examples, and there are plenty of cases where lottery winners have safe and prosperous lives, it does indicate the high safety risk of winning the lottery.

Strained relationships

Having to turn down requests for help and risk broken relationships with families or friends is common for lottery winners. 

After winning the lottery, Hayes told the St. Louis Dispatch in 2012 a story about how a friend she had known for years asked for financial help to help pay three years worth of back taxes. The friend said she was about to lose the house, but after searching a government website for tax records on her friend’s property, Hayes found out the taxes were paid in full. After Hayes printed that page out and mailed it to her friend, they didn’t speak again, according to the article. 

If you are single and win the lottery, there's a possibility that finding a life partner who will actually love you for more than just your money will become harder.

Guilt and boredom

An article on grunge.com titled “Why it sucks to win the lottery” talks about a condition called “sudden wealth syndrome,” where people feel guilty that they were the ones who won the lottery in the face of astronomical odds. 

Eventually, boredom can be a problem, as well. People often are wired to work and achieve personal or financial goals.

When winning the lottery eliminates the need to work, the desire to indulge in pleasures often fills the void left by pursuing achievements. When the luxury items are purchased and the vacations are taken, the excitement wears off and it’s easy to have a feeling of, “Now what?”

The lottery does change people, but sometimes for the worse

According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 70 percent of lottery winners go bankrupt within a few years. 

Obtaining more money often leads to careless spending and the desire to get more money, and the greed can be destructive to the lives of winners and their families.

Budgeting and financial planning are often major sources of conflict for married couples or families, and the presence of more money to spend can actually further heighten that issue.

In an article on time.com, Don McNay, a financial consultant to lottery winners and the author of “Life Lessons from the Lottery,” said many winners end up unhappy or broke.

“People commit suicide,” McNay said in the article. “People run through their money. Easy comes, easy goes. They go through divorce, or people die.”

No doubt, many winners have been responsible and had their lives changed for the good.

But as you are fantasizing about being a big winner and rushing to buy lottery tickets this weekend, an old adage should creep into your head when it comes to winning the lottery: Be careful what you wish for.

All images from Getty Images

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