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Lottery Fever: Only in America

Lottery Fever
Millions buying tickets to win millions (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Powerball Lottery drawing is history, and as I accurately predicted, you and I did not win. Two winners will split the grand prize of nearly half a billion dollars (before Uncle Sam comes calling or course). Every so often these “mega jackpots” show up and the feeding frenzy begins.

As we were watching some of the news stories, my wife pointed out that a lot of the people purchasing handfuls of tickets were the people who could least afford to lose that money. It’s one thing to drop a couple of bucks for the fun of it. But blowing half, or all of your paycheck, is something else.

Amazing, as it may seem, 40% of Americans making between $25,000 and $35,000 believe their best chance of retirement is winning the lottery. They would actually have a better chance of winning an Academy Award. So go ahead and buy a ticket but you might want to consider taking some acting lessons as a back up.

Winners Who Turned Out To Be Losers

Not everyone who wins the lottery goes on to a great life. Studies show that people who receive things without having to earn them often don’t assign a true value to those things and are broke again in a very short time. Here are some folks that didn’t fair too well after cashing in that winning ticket

On Christmas Day in 2002, Jack Whittaker won a $315 million Powerball jackpot. Whittaker ran a construction company and suddenly found himself in the midst of several lawsuits from previously happy customers that cost nearly $3 million to defend. He wasted nearly $50 million just giving it to virtual strangers that approached him and asked for money. His granddaughter spent her share on drugs, became addicted, disappeared and was eventually found dead. His ex-wife said, “I wish we had just torn up the ticket.” Divorce, lawsuits, and death aren’t things we imagine facing in our lotto fantasies.

Imagine being a $16.2 million dollar lottery winner and being sued by a former girlfriend, having your own brother hire a “hit man” to take you out for a possible inheritance, and being $1 million in debt from failed family businesses at the end of the first year. Meet William “Bud” Post who is enjoying his golden retirement years on social security. Publishers Clearing House perhaps?

Do you, Denise Rossi, $1.3 million dollar California Lottery winner take this man…? No, she didn’t. She divorced her loving hubby just 11 days after winning the big prize. Somehow, in all the excitement, she forgot to tell him about her good fortune. Two years later, hubby discovered the deception and sued. How much did he get? All of it! Denise had violated California disclosure laws. Had she told him about the winnings he would have only been entitled to half. So much for that, “For richer; for poorer” part of the nuptials.

Some Final Thoughts

You don’t hear too many success stories about lottery winners because the “train wrecks” are so much more interesting. Most all of us have sat around the dinner table imagining how that much money could change our lives for the better. So much good we could all do with that much money. There’s an old saying that seems appropriate to end this post, “Be careful what you wish for.”

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