The Dark Side Of Winning The Lottery That Most People Just Don’t Want To Talk About

It’s a Thursday when the lottery winner buys her fifth luxury car. She parks it near her new mansion, which has a dark chocolate river in the backyard. Her only worry for the day is if dinner’s Maine lobster will be perfect or just about perfect. This is a snapshot from the life of the average mega millions lotto winners…right?

Truthfully, handling the initial explosion of wealth that comes with winning the lottery is ridiculously complicated and stress inducing. A disturbing amount can go wrong for your average lotto winner — and we’re about to show you all of it. So scrounge up a few dollars and think of your numbers, ’cause you’re about to win the lottery. But you might want to hold your excitement for now…

Maybe you grind away at work, bored, making just enough to get you and your family by. Maybe, in the middle of a menial task, your mind wanders, and visions of winning the Mega Millions lottery dance through your daydreams…

Syracuse News

That jackpot? One billion dollars. Unbelievably, you think, that money could be yours. For just two dollars — which you could likely scrape together with recycled cans — your net worth could jump to a number with three commas.

Oregon Live

Were you to buy a lotto ticket, you know you’d have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than actually winning; you’re not surprised the average American fruitlessly spends $207 a year on lottery tickets. Nevertheless, you resolve to buy one.


Aware that someone has to win (so why shouldn’t it be you?), you stop by the convenience store at lunch and buy a ticket. The numbers you chose reflect an important date in your life. Then, later, when you’re finally home, you watch the official drawing.

A man in a suit pulls ping-pong balls from what looks like a popcorn maker. As he turns the numbered balls towards the camera, you notice each matches a number you chose. When all six numbers are drawn, it hits — you freakin’ won!

Play Huge Lottos

Internally, your stomach does a loop-de-loop. Tears well in your eyes. Your knees give out. You’ve got the golden ticket! Well, lotto winner, take your moment, but then clear your head — there’s a lot you need to know about the money you just won.

See, your first instinct — with the winning ticket in your hand — might be to call all your friends and family. It might be to tell your boss he’s worthless. It might be to head to the car dealership. All these steps would be ill-advised.

The Game

Instead, lottery attorney (yeah, somehow that’s an actual branch of the law) Jason Kurland, below, suggested signing the back of the winning ticket. That secures the ticket as yours and protects you from money-grubbin’ filchers.

NY Daily News

And before taking the ticket to the lotto commission, Jason recommended you assemble an A-Team of sorts. Call a lawyer, a financial planner, and an accountant (uhg, could anything be less exciting?). They can help you make the tough decisions coming up.

In the meantime, “Keep quiet, and don’t tell anybody,” Jason said. “You can tell your immediate family, but as soon as word gets out [you won] your life is gonna change, and you don’t want your life to change unless you’re ready for the change.”

KRON 4 News

Similarly, delete all your social media accounts. When you do eventually claim your reward, your name will come out, and the last thing you want are hoards of people with access to pictures of you and your family.

Pop Sugar

So now you’ve got your team. You’ve got your social media scrubbed from existence. Now’s the time to claim your prize. Easy, right? Well, not quite. You have a few major decisions left before you can go all Scrooge McDuck.

You can have that billion dollar prize doled out to you over a few decades, or you can take it all in one lump sum. But of course, either way, you won’t be getting a billion dollars — you didn’t think you were actually going to get the entire jackpot, right?

NY Daily News

See, Uncle Sam always gets his, and in the case of lottery winnings, his is 24 percent. That one billion just became $760,000,000 — that’s only two commas! Just ask lottery winner Andrew Jackson Whittaker…

In 2002, ol’ Andrew from West Virginia won $315 million. Yet, after paying the IRS, the state, and other fees, he walked away with “just” $114 million. Alright, but you’ll gladly take a few hundred million, right? Who cares. Well…

You get those few hundred million if you’re the only winner. That’s not always the case. If someone else defies the odds and hits the jackpot, you split it with them. But you’re the generous type — you can share the wealth. But consider this.

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In September 2018, forty New Zealanders won the country’s NZ$1,000,000 (about US$655,000) jackpot. Each winner took home just NZ$25,000 ($16,500). Still good — but not quit-your-job good.

Worst of all, the explosion of wealth so many envision to be their savior actually brings a wealth of problems — some more drastic than others. Financial advisor Robert Pagliarini described one of these problems as “the honeymoon phase of sudden wealth.”

People get all this money, they don’t know what to do, so, in their excitement, they start buying and spending and making poor financial decisions. Instead, Robert suggested, they should envision their future, then build a plan that helps them create it.

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Even this plan is not without shortcomings. Lottery attorney Jason recalled plenty of people who won a few million dollars and were then pressured into making bad investments, or hemorrhaged their money in a bad business adventure.

Steve Zumwalt / FEMA

And the more you look at the stories surrounding other lotto winners, the more you see heartbreak and tragedy, even for those careful with their money. Just look at Missouri’s Sandra Hayes, below.

The Lotto Life

Sandra won a few million after splitting a $224 million Powerball with 11 other winners. Once she secured her newfound wealth, she found her friends were suddenly short on cash when it came to weekend meals and entertainment.

“These are people who you’ve loved deep down,” Sandra said, “and they’re turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me.” Other lotto winners will tell stories of friends and neighbors quickly asking for pieces of the prize.

Time and time again, lottery winners and losers have learned the hard way that money can bring out the worst in people. Winner Denise Rossi, for instance, claimed a $1.3 million prize, then, to keep it all for herself, divorced her husband.

The Chicago Tribune

Denise’s plan backfired, and the courts ultimately made her share her winnings with her now ex-husband. Meanwhile, in 1988, lotto winner William Post, below, battled a hit man sent by his brother who wanted a cut of his winnings.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via Newsday

And remember Andrew Whittaker, the winner of “just” $114 million? Well, that lottery “winner” spent millions fighting off over 400 lawsuits filed against him by people wanting a cut of his money. That’s a pain in the butt.

While countless lottery winners have gone on to live pleasant lives among the wealthiest people in the world, countless others have squandered their money on bad investments, poor decisions, and extravagant luxuries — need another example?

In 1997, Billy Bob Harrell Jr. of Texas won $31 million. He bought houses, cars, vacations, and even fulfilled a few family member’s requests for money. Within a decade, he had nothing left. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

So congratulations, you beat the odds with your $2 winning ticket. Extreme wealth is at the tip of your fingers. But now the adventure begins — will you make the right decisions?

Winning the lottery is no doubt a life-changing moment — but with the great explosion of wealth comes a lot of responsibility.

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