New York Lottery Loser Lou Eisenberg
No one really expects to win the lottery, least of all people who are accustomed to financial struggles. Still, the slim chances don’t take away the excitement of playing and the eagerness to see if luck is on our side—even just once. Oftentimes, it becomes routine: we repeatedly buy our tickets, check our numbers, and face disappointment when we don’t win. However, since there’s always a winner, we hold out hope that eventually it’ll be us. For New York lottery winner Lou Eisenberg, this was the case until the day he held a winning ticket worth millions.
Lou’s Monumental Win
It was a normal week for Brownsville, New York, resident Lou Eisenberg. He worked his typical hours as a maintenance man in Brooklyn, and at the end of his week on November 13th, 1981, he bought a $1 lottery ticket—just as he had been doing for years. Just two days later, on November 15th, Lou’s life changed forever.
As he did every Sunday, Lou called the New York Lotto line to see if he had the winning numbers. Of course, this was merely routine for him. He had no idea that the automated voice on the other end of the line was going to read his own lottery numbers back to him. The shock was immediate, to the point that he was in disbelief and calling the number repeatedly to ensure he wasn’t crazy. Finally, he looked at his wife and told her they’d just won the largest jackpot that the world had seen at that time—a total of $5 million.
For someone used to making a mere $225 a week, this was completely life-altering. After turning his winning ticket in, Lou accepted instalment payments that would amount to a total of $239,000 ($150,000 after taxes) a year over 20 years. For someone who’d only been bringing in a tenth of that yearly, it was a dream come true. At 53 years old, Lou was able to retire and finally start living the life that he’d always wanted.
How Did Lou Eisenberg Spend His Winnings?
During his press conference, Lou admitted that his first goal was to pay off the debts he’d accumulated over many years. When asked about his dreams, Lou admitted he was most excited to retire and spend more time with his then-wife, Bernice. Likewise, he was a big fan of art, though he’d never had the money to indulge in it the way he wanted to. As a lover of music, theatre, and museums, he was excited to finally be able to enjoy them all as well.
A large chunk of his money was eventually spent while travelling. He and Bernice were able to see the likes of California, Hawaii, and even Europe—all of which were once completely out of his reach. Beyond that, he moved out of his Brownsville apartment to a co-op in Brooklyn, which came with a much higher price tag than his former living arrangements. He even decked out his bedroom with an $8,000 bedroom set.
Despite his plans to save half of his winnings, Lou’s millions eventually ran out. Twenty years later, after receiving his last cheque, he revealed he pretty much had nothing left. Much of his wealth was lost in divorce settlements and gambling ordeals. The former millionaire admits that while he wishes he’d been more responsible in saving his money, he has no regrets about how he chose to live his life.
Before his big win, Lou was a hardworking family man. He had two children, a son and a daughter. Living paycheque to paycheque was no easy feat for the family. Lou and Bernice slept in the living room just so their daughter could have a comfortable bedroom. They didn’t have the money to put their kids through college, though their son did work to make it happen for himself. Once upon a time, they were merely a tight-knit family who faced many disadvantages.
After hitting the jackpot, Lou became a face for the lottery. He had appearances on Johnny Carson and Regis Philbin and even became known in the media as “Lightbulb Lou”—a working man turned millionaire.
He gained even more fame for his friendship with fellow lottery winner Curtis Sharp, who won the lottery a year after Lou. The two met at Curtis’s press conference and immediately hit it off; in fact, Lou said Curtis reminded him a lot of himself. They would go on to be featured in commercials and magazines together and became known as the “New York Lotto Poster Boys”.
Years later, like quite a few other couples who won big, including Roger and Lara Griffiths, Lou and Bernice divorced. Though Lou did eventually remarry, he ended up facing divorce a second time around. Quickly, his money and his fame began to die down. Soon enough, with his pockets emptied, the lavish lifestyle quickly came to a halt. Regardless, Lou remains grateful about the opportunities that came with his win and says he wouldn’t change a thing.
Where Is Lou Eisenberg Now?
Currently, Lou Eisenberg is living in Florida as a retiree. He and his girlfriend share a mobile home and live a relatively peaceful life, though he admits money can be tight. After all, he was once a multi-millionaire. Now, Lou’s income comes from social security and pension cheques. Still, he remains the happy-go-lucky man that people knew in the ‘80s and lives his life comfortably with no regrets.
Lou Eisenberg isn’t much different from other lottery winners—but certainly his story is much less tragic than the majority of winners who lost it all. Stumbling into newfound wealth can change the entire course of one’s life, and for Lou, it meant that he was able to live more freely and lavishly—even if only for a short time. Unfortunately, it’s common that winners dry up all their winnings, and that largely has to do with a lack of financial and legal guidance.
One good lesson for the so-far unlucky participants of the lottery is to be prepared for the responsibility that winning inevitably brings. While the chances of winning may seem low, you never know when it’s going to be you reading your lucky numbers off a screen.