If you win the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot, you may not be as lucky as you may think. Many winners befall the so-called curse of the lottery, with some squandering their fortunes and others meeting tragic ends.
“So many of them wind up unhappy or wind up broke. People have had terrible things happen,” said Don McNay, 56, a financial consultant to lottery winners and the author of Life Lessons from the Lottery. “People commit suicide. People run though their money. Easy comes, easy goes. They go through divorce or people die.”
“It’s just upheaval that they’re not ready for,” McNay told TIME on Tuesday. “It’s the curse of the lottery because it made their lives worse instead of improving them.”
About 70 percent of people who suddenly receive a windfall of cash will lose it within a few years, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education. With a $1.5 billion at stake Wednesday, here are some of the stories of past-winners that gamblers should know about:
“I wish that we had torn the ticket up”
Jack Whittaker was already a millionaire when he won a $315 million in a lottery in West Virginia in 2002. The then-55-year-old West Virginia construction company president claimed he went broke about four years later and lost a daughter and a granddaughter to drug overdoses, which he blamed on the curse of the Powerball win, according to ABC News. “My granddaughter is dead because of the money,” he told ABC. “You know, my wife had said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we had torn the ticket up, too.” Whittaker was also robbed of $545,000 sitting in his car while he was at a strip club eight months after winning the lottery. “I just don’t like Jack Whittaker. I don’t like the hard heart I’ve got,” he said. “I don’t like what I’ve become.”
“He’s the last person I would have prototyped for going completely crazy but he did,” McNay told TIME on Tuesday. “No question it was because he won the lottery.”
“I’d have been better off broke”
Abraham Shakespeare was murdered in 2009 after he won a $30 million lotto jackpot. The 47-year-old Florida man was shot twice in the chest and then buried under a slab of concrete in a backyard, ABC News reported. DeeDee Moore, who authorities say befriended him after his lotto win, was found guilty of first degree murder in 2012. His brother, Robert Brown, told the BBC that Shakespeare always said he regretted winning the lottery. “‘I’d have been better off broke.’ He said that to me all the time,” Brown said.
“These are people who you’ve loved deep down, and they’re turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me”
Sandra Hayes won the Missouri lottery in 2006 and split a $224 million Powerball with a dozen coworkers. The St. Louis woman is now a retired social worker and wrote the book, How Winning the Lottery Changed My Life. She told the Associated Press she had to “adapt to this new life” which changed how she saw her closest family and friends. “I had to endure the greed and the need that people have, trying to get you to release your money to them,” she said in 2012. “That caused a lot of emotional pain. These are people who you’ve loved deep down, and they’re turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me.”
“My life was hijacked by the lottery”
Donna Mikkin won $34.5 million in the New York State Lottery in 2007. She said the big win ruined her life and led to “emotional bankruptcy.” “Most of us think that winning the lottery is the ultimate fulfillment. But I found that wasn’t the case,” she wrote a blog post in 2014. “Most people look at winning the lottery as some magic pot of gold waiting for you at the end of the rainbow.”
The Long Island woman said she considered herself a “happy person” before the win. “When we won the lottery, my inner dialogue was manic. I became more concerned about how I was being judged and perceived, not realizing I was the one doing the judging in the first place,” she wrote. “If you asked me, my life was hijacked by the lottery.”
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and I like rich a whole lot better.”
Richard Lustig is one of the rare exceptions. The 65-year-old Florida man is a seven-time lottery game grand-prize winner who is still basking in riches after hitting it big about two decades ago. “Obviously it’s changed my life big time,” he told TIME on Tuesday. “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and I like rich a whole lot better. We’ve lived in big, fancy houses. I drive a Jaguar. We’ve gone on cruises. I can’t complain.”
The former professional drummer, who banked his largest payout of $842,000 playing Mega Money, has kept most of his earnings and wrote the book, Learn How to Increase Your Chances of Winning the Lottery, in 2010 after his latest lotto win of $90,000.
The book has been flying off shelves in the last two weeks. “It’s been insanity. We’ve sold thousands of dollars because of all the publicity,” he said. “We wait for these kinds of moments, when jackpots get really high. When it happens, boom!”
Lustig, who has two children with his wife of 30 years, said the key to staying happy is to hire a good financial planner and a good accountant after paying off all debts. “I’m smarter than that,” he said. “People, they just don’t think. You have to secure your future.” “The reason why you hear those horror stories about people who win huge amounts like that and all of a sudden they’re filing bankruptcy is because it’s usually from people who have never had that kind of money before in their lives,” he added. “They just go through it like crazy. They think there’s no tomorrow. Well, there is a tomorrow and eventually it will run out.”