The Dangers of Winning the Lottery
Winning the lottery is one of the most universal daydreams. Lottery players likely envision all of the incredible ways that their life might change should they just be able to choose the right combination of numbers. However, many lottery hopefuls would be shocked to know that the lives of actual lotto winners too often turn more into a living nightmare than a dream come true. Unfortunately, there are many dangers of winning the lottery that many players don’t know, so in this article we’ll reveal the truth of how winning the lottery can negatively impact your life.
Lack of Anonymity
In some regions, one condition of claiming a large jackpot prize is allowing the lottery organization to release the winner’s name for marketing purposes. If you think about the last time there was a large lotto prize won in your area, you can probably even remember the smiling faces of the winners as they held their oversized cheque.
Unfortunately, having everyone talking about you overnight can vastly interfere with your personal life. Many winners have struggled with this brush with fame, as members of their community start to recognize them on the streets, in the grocery store, and in other public space. Add to that a steady stream of media hounding them for interviews, and it may feel like privacy is a thing of the past. One Powerball winner from New Hampshire even went to court to try and keep her identity anonymous after winning $559.7 million in February 2018, knowing that having her name publicized would put her position as an engaged community member at risk.
Desperate Friends and Family
As if contending with strangers wanting to chat about your big win wasn’t enough, many big winners have to deal with issues much closer to home. One of the biggest complaints that jackpot winners often have isn’t about how coming into a large windfall changed them, but how it changed their friends and family. If you win big, expect to start hearing from friends and family you haven’t spoken to in years—or even some you speak to every day—who suddenly need “just a little bit” of financial support.
Sandra Hayes, who was the co-winner of a $224 million Missouri lottery prize in 2006, described the emotional upheaval this caused her as “life-sucking.” Another winner by the name of Craig Henshaw had to quit his beloved job as a teacher due to the handouts his colleagues (and supposed friends) started asking him for. After all, it is one thing to know that money can bring out the worst in people, but it’s another thing seeing it happen to the people you loved the most, and who you thought loved you for more than just your financial situation.
The End of the Honeymoon Phase
Winning such a large amount of money is an incredibly overwhelming experience that causes a lot of excitement and joy. Robert Pagliarini, a financial advisor who has worked with lottery winners, has observed that many big winners experience something he describes as a honeymoon phase after coming into their windfall. However, the emotional high that the win brings is completely unsustainable.
Eventually, winners lose that high and have to contend with what their life will look like now that their finances have drastically changed. Unfortunately, many winners experience a low just as extreme as the high of their win, and end up compensating with extravagant purchases, impulsive shopping, excessive partying, or sometimes even substance abuse. Too often, lotto winners experiencing these highs and lows let their new money control them, instead of using it to fill their life with other activities and purpose. Michael Carroll, known as "the lottery lout", is a classic example of someone who blew through all of his winnings with nothing meaningful to show for it.
Financial Illiteracy and Bankruptcy
Though it may sound counterintuitive, many lottery winners end up declaring bankruptcy, and are at greater risk of bankruptcy than most. As anyone can win the lottery—so long as they can afford to buy a ticket—winners come from all sorts of financial backgrounds. Often, they are ill-equipped for dealing with such an unexpected, immediate increase in wealth. Whereas someone who earns or comes into large amounts of money over time can learn about responsible spending, budgeting, and investing as their fortune grows, lottery winners are thrown into the thick of things literally overnight.
Winners may also feel like their cash flow is endless, and therefore never pay attention to their spending or think about planning for the future. That is exactly what happened to Canadian lottery winner Sharon Tirabassi, who ended up spending her $10 million prize within a decade. Additionally, though they have access to cash, winners often continue to spend on credit. The tendency of winners to make high-value purchases on credit also means that interest collects at a much quicker pace, and eventually this habit gets the best of them.
Becoming a Target
The notoriety that comes with winning a large jackpot often makes winners a target—of both physical and financial threats. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unscrupulous people who will do just about anything to get their hands on some extra cash, and to them, lottery winners are the perfect victim.
Not only do winners have to contend with everyone from investors to scammers trying to get them to agree to part with their money, they are also at high risk of being robbed. One West Virginia lottery winner, Andrew Jackson Whittaker, was robbed of $545,000 while he was sitting in his car after winning a $315 million jackpot in 2002. He also became a target of bogus lawsuits, with more than 400 claims being made against him in the five years after her won.
Tragically, some winners are pursued so relentlessly for their money that they end up losing their lives. Abraham Shakespeare, who won a $30 million jackpot, was murdered for his fortune by none other than his business partner in 2009, while Craigory Burch Jr. was murdered in his own home invasion by people demanding his money. William Post, who won $16.2 million in 1988, had to evade a hit man after his brother plotted his death in an attempt to inherit the fortune. For some people, winning the lottery can end up being fatal.
How to Avoid the Dangers of Winning the Lottery
Unfortunately, winning the lottery is not always all it’s cracked up to be, with many winners ending up considering their win a curse. However, there are some things you can do to beat the lottery curse.
The first thing you should do if you win is consult with a lawyer to see if you can remain anonymous. In most areas, winners can form a trust and claim the prize on its behalf in order to remain unnamed—but make sure you do this before you claim your prize. Next, hire a financial planner and advisor to help you plan your financial future and keep a good head on your shoulders.
While you can try your best to mitigate risk by having a good plan in place, there is only so much you can do. Should you be lucky enough to win the lottery, we can only hope you have a strong support system in your life that will help you enjoy your winnings to their fullest.