Lottery Winners Who Lost It All

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(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

philharris Phil Harris 6am-10am
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Wednesday’s Powerball jackpot is an estimated $425 million! That amount of money would last a lifetime and then some for most people. But not all. It never ceases to amaze me how people manage to squander their vast lottery fortunes, mostly through poor decision-making. Some of them would be the first to tell you that winning millions of dollars is more trouble than it’s worth. Let’s review, shall we?

We’ll start small. Ken Proxmire was a machinist who won $1 million from the Michigan Lottery in 1977. He moved to California, went into the car business with his brothers (red flag!), and filed for bankruptcy within five years. If he still wanted to work, he should have stuck with something he knew…which is what eventually happened anyway. Ken went back to work as a machinist.

Across the pond, Callie Rogers won the British equivalent of $3 million in 2003 at the tender age of 16. Need I say more? After splurging on vacations, homes, shopping, friends, and a couple of, er, enhancements, the mother of three was working as a maid to support her family and pay off her debts within six years of hitting her jackpot. Following her subsequent struggle with depression and suicide attempt, Callie met the love of her life and says that, despite only having about $4000 left, she’s happier than she has ever been. And now she thinks 16-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to play the lottery.

Another Englishwoman, Viv Nicholson blew through her winnings of $3 million in such lavish fashion between 1961 and 1966 that she became the subject of musical entitled “Spend, Spend, Spend.” And before we leave the British Isles, let’s all learn a lesson from Michael Carroll who won the equivalent of $15 million in 2002. He began his downward spiral by kindly lavishing gifts on family and friends, but then turned to less admirable pursuits, namely cocaine, gambling and, after his wife left him, prostitutes. Just eight years after picking his winning numbers, the former garbageman was collecting about $65 a week in unemployment while trying to get his old job back.

One would think that if you had $4.2 million to your name, people would try to borrow money from you, no the other way around. Suzanne Mullins opted for twenty yearly payouts of $47,800 instead of the lump sum but within five years had to use her future payouts as collateral for a $200,000 loan. She blamed the debt on the lengthy illness of her uninsured son-in-law, who needed $1 million for medical bills. Perhaps the family should have budgeted for monthly insurance premiums.

The odds of winning the lottery once are astronomical but Evelyn Adams of New Jersey beat those odds twice, in 1985 and 1986, to the tune of $5.4 million! Unfortunately for her, New Jersey is also home to Atlantic City. Twenty years later, Evelyn was broke and living in a trailer. Janite Lee of Missouri had a bit of gambling habit too. The South Korean immigrant lost $347,000 in a single year but actually spent most of her 1993 lottery payout of $18 million on educational programs, community services, and political organizations. The reading room at Washington University in St. Louis is named for her thanks to a million dollar donation, and her reported contributions of $277,000 to the Democratic political candidates earned her meals with Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Unfortunately, her good intentions couldn’t keep Ms. Lee from filing for bankruptcy in 2001.

And then there’s the tragic tale of Jack Whittaker Jr., the West Virginia building contractor who won a whopping $315 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas Day in 2002. At the time, it was the largest jackpot in history won by a single person. As the president of Diversified Enterprises Construction, Whittaker was already worth more than a million dollars. Whittaker did some good with his new-found fortune. After hitting the Powerball numbers, he pledged to tithe his winnings to various Christian charities and created the Jack Whittaker Foundation with another $14 million. However, a string of increasingly poor choices and some astonishingly bad luck overshadowed that part of his story.

Jack was arrested twice, once for drunk driving and once for threatening a bar manager. A woman sued him for groping her at a dog racetrack. Thieves took $545,000 in cash from Whittaker’s car while he was visiting a strip club. About a year later, thieves stole another $200,000 from his car. Caesars Atlantic City sued him for bouncing $1.5 million in checks. His wife divorced him. Then came the devastating deaths. In 2003, Jack’s granddaughter’s boyfriend was found dead of a drug overdose inside the Whittaker home. The 17-year-old granddaughter, to whom he had been giving a $2,100 weekly allowance(!), fatally overdosed months later. And Jack’s daughter, the mother of the dead granddaughter, died in 2010. When reached for comment, Whittaker, with no family or fortune, said, “I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”

While many of us dream of finding our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it doesn’t always lead to a life lived happily ever after. Sometimes it ends up being a big bucket of regret and more problems than anyone could ever imagine would befall them. But if you do choose to buy a Powerball ticket this week, good luck!

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