The Lottery Curse | 10 Biggest Lottery Losers of All Time
Most lottery winners discover that becoming rich overnight makes it difficult to keep their spending in check—and the bigger the prize is, the higher the likelihood of disaster. Major winners who don’t hire legal or financial help are more likely to lose their fortunes and be robbed, scammed, manipulated, or worse.
This "lottery curse" phenomenon has destroyed some of the largest lottery windfalls in history. Here, we count down the biggest lottery losers of all time—including one who managed to decimate a nearly $200 million fortune in just a few years.
10. LOU EISENBERG – LOST $5 MILLION
In 1981, Lou Eisenberg was bringing home $225 a week from his job maintaining lightbulbs in a New York City office building. On November 13, 1981, his life changed forever when he won the $5 million New York Lotto jackpot, becoming the first major winner in the state. His good fortune wouldn’t last long.
Eisenberg immediately quit his job and bought a $130,000 oceanfront condo in Brooklyn. He told his rags-to-riches story on every talk show that invited him, from Oprah to Johnny Carson and The Today Show. He blew through cash in Paris, on Hawaiian beaches, at Las Vegas casinos, and gave money to anyone who asked. He also enjoyed the good times and fame he shared with his close buddy and fellow New York Lotto winner Curtis Sharp. The duo's escapades led to the media dubbing them the "New York Lotto Poster Boys".
Unfortunately, the fun didn’t last. Eisenberg divorced his wife and married someone else—only to get divorced again. This left the big winner with alimony payments that cost more than half of his yearly lotto cheques. He even had to relinquish his waterfront condo in one of the settlements.
By the time he collected his final cheque in 2001, Eisenberg was completely broke, living in a mobile home and relying on his meagre social security and pension income—which added up to an underwhelming $1,000 per month.
When asked if he had any regrets, Eisenberg said no: he “lived for the day.”
9. MICHAEL CARROLL - LOST £9.7 MILLION
Nineteen-year-old Michael Carroll was working as a garbage man when he won £9.7 million (about US$14.4 million) in the UK National Lotto in 2002. The young man, who had just been charged in a petty crime case, was wearing an electronic monitoring anklet when he collected his prize.
Carroll immediately began blowing his lottery winnings on jewellery, drugs, booze, cars, and parties. He bought a historic mansion called “The Grange” in the little town of Swaffham, where he ran demolition derbies in his backyard. In 2005, he was handed an anti-social behaviour order by police for driving his Mercedes around while drunk and catapulting steel balls at local businesses and cars. Nice guy.
On the advice of financial planning professionals, Carroll set up a £3.9 million investment bond to generate monthly income for the future. However, after spending wildly and giving three family members £1 million each, he was forced to live off the bond just one year after he’d won the lottery.
By 2006, Carroll had 42 offenses on record and had spent nine months in jail. He had also been blackmailed for £130,000 and five of his guard dogs were mysteriously murdered. By now, Carroll’s behaviour was infamous and his spending had run the coffers dry. His dramatic life story was even published in print and made into a documentary.
Most recently, British tabloids reported that in 2012, Carroll was working in a slaughterhouse, making £400 (about $520) per week. While in our opinion he's definitely not one of those lottery winners who did it right, Carroll claims he doesn't regret a thing because those were and will always be the ten best years of his life.
8. GERALD MUSWAGON - LOST $10 MILLION
In 1998, 42-year-old Gerald Muswagon of Winnipeg, Manitoba took home a $10 million prize from Canada’s national Lotto Super 7 draw. Unfortunately, his lucky day turned out to be the beginning of a fiery downward spiral.
First, Muswagon bought a fleet of new cars for himself and his friends. He also bought a house where he hosted parties every night. He fuelled the party fire by buying his guests more alcohol and drugs than they could take. Locals still remember the day he purchased eight big-screen TVs for his buddies. In an attempt to go straight, Muswagon opened his own logging business—but it failed due to lack of sales.
By October 2000, Gerald Muswagon was looking for bigger thrills and was clocked by police driving his new Chevrolet Silverado at a staggering 180 km/h (111 mph). The stunt and ensuing police chase earned him three months in jail. In November 2002, Muswagon spent another three months in prison for sexual assault.
In less than a decade, Muswagon had spent almost all of his money. To support his six children and girlfriend, he was forced to go back to a heavy-lifting job that paid minimum wage. Sadly, Muswagon committed suicide in 2005, just seven years after cashing in his winning ticket.
7. SHARON TIRABASSI - LOST $10.5 MILLION
In 2004, Sharon Tirabassi was a single mother to three children, barely making ends meet. But on Easter weekend in 2004, she won $10.5 million on Canada’s Lotto Super 7 draw. Unfortunately, Tirabassi didn’t hire a financial advisor—and her fortune didn’t last long.
Tirabassi quickly split her winnings with her family, giving $1 million to her parents and dividing another $1.75 million among her siblings. She bought several houses and turned them into low-cost rentals, paid other people’s rent, and gave out loans to friends. In 2006, she bought herself and her new husband, Vinny, a huge $515,000 house and filled the driveway with luxury cars, including a modified Cadillac Escalade valued at $200,000. All the while, she was treating her friends to trips to Cancun, California, the Caribbean, and Las Vegas. By 2007, half of her lottery prize was long gone.
That year, Vinny crashed a car while driving under the influence. He got 18 months in jail and his license was taken away. In 2011, he was caught driving illegally and went back to jail. During these troubled years, the Tirabassis lost their house.
With just $750,000 left of her winnings, Sharon knew that it was time to get back to reality. She put the remaining money into a trust for her children and went back to work. The family now lives in a modest apartment, not far from their old mansion.
6. ALEX TOTH - LOST $13 MILLION
In 1990, Alex Toth won $13 million in the Florida Lotto and opted to collect his prize in instalments of $666,666 per year—an ominous hint at how spectacularly badly things would turn out.
At first, Alex and his wife, Rhoda, lived life to the fullest: they travelled, met celebrities, and gave lavish gifts. But soon, Toth started gambling, and his mental and physical health began to deteriorate. Rhoda and her son also went to court over a financial disagreement.
With more problems than money, the Toths sold their future payments to Singer Asset and Finance in 1999 in exchange for two lump sum payments of more than $1 million each.
While their yearly lottery instalments had been taxed automatically, these lump sums should have been reported on their taxes. Instead, the couple said that they’d received the same amount of money as before and inflated Alex’s gambling losses. The IRS eventually charged them with tax fraud, but by this time, there was no money left. In 2006, the couple was living in squalor with their house hooked up to a car engine for electricity.
Alex Toth was deemed incompetent to stand trial and checked into a mental institution. Sadly, he passed away from a heart attack and never made it to trial. Rhoda pleaded guilty to tax evasion in federal court and was told she owed the government $1.1 million, while Alex had owed $1.4 million before his death.
5. WILLIAM “BUD” POST III - LOST $16.2 MILLION
William “Bud” Post III was living on disability cheques when he won $16.2 million on the Pennsylvania State Lottery. He picked up the first of 26 yearly payments of $497,953.47—and burned through it like wildfire.
In just two weeks, Post spent $300,000 on gifts, a restaurant lease, a liquor license, an airplane, and a used car business for his brother. In just three months, he was $500,000 in debt. The following year, he bought a mansion and a $260,000 boat.
Soon, people were after his cash. First, his brother tried and failed to have Bud killed so that he could inherit his future lotto payments. Then, his wife wanted a divorce. Finally, his former landlady, who had bought Post his winning ticket, sued him for a portion of the prize. Post was ordered to give her $5.3 million, but he refused—so the judge froze his future lottery instalments. When Post lost his appeal against an assault conviction, he skipped town.
While in hiding, Bud sold his mansion and auctioned off his last 17 lottery instalments to pay off his debts. This left $2.65 million owing—so naturally, he bought two more homes, several cars, and a luxury camper.
Police finally caught Bud and sent him to prison for two years. Afterwards, the former millionaire was reduced to living on $450 per month from disability cheques. He died in January 2006, leaving behind his seventh wife, nine children, and $1 million in debt.
4. JANITE LEE - LOST $18 MILLION
In 1993, Janite Lee, an immigrant from South Korea, was working in a wig shop when she won the $18 million jackpot from the Illinois State Lottery. The lucky lady opted to receive yearly payouts of $620,000. Unfortunately, her lack of financial planning would lead to some disastrous financial decisions.
First, Lee bought a million-dollar mansion and leased several luxury cars for her family. Next, she donated $1 million to the local law school at Washington University, which was used to build a library in her name. Lee also made generous donations to government programs and to support Democratic party candidates, such as Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
The real problems started when she began gambling—a habit that cost her over $300,000 a year. Other examples of Lee’s bad financial management also started coming to light. It turned out that she had taken out a mortgage on her massive home and borrowed millions of dollars from banks and credit cards. She also made mistakes while paying off her debts. In one case, she was charged an astounding $750,000 early debt repayment penalty.
By 2001, Lee had less than $700 remaining from her lottery windfall. With no hope of repaying her $2.5 million debt, she sold off her remaining lottery payments and filed for bankruptcy.
3. DAVID LEE EDWARDS - LOST $73.7 MILLION
David Lee Edwards was a poor ex-con who had spent a third of his life in jail. Then, in 2001, $7 worth of lottery tickets won him a $73.7 million share of a massive $280 million Powerball jackpot. The instalment option would have paid Edwards a cool $2.9 million annually for 25 years, but he collected a single payout instead, taking home $27 million after taxes. He hired a financial advisor to help him invest—but no professional could save Edwards from himself.
In the first year alone, he blew through $12 million. He purchased a 6,000 square-foot Palm Beach estate for $1.6 million and filled the driveway with fancy cars and a $35,000 Hummer golf cart for his daughter. The mansion was decorated with hundreds of pieces of fake medieval armour. Edwards also bought a civilian jet with a pilot and “invested” in a limousine business, a fibre optics firm, and three losing racing horses.
Sadly, Edwards’ life soon tanked due to his extensive drug use. His wife, Shawna, was addicted to Oxycontin, and they both got hepatitis from tainted needles. By 2008, the lottery winner had sold off his investments, had his house repossessed, and the couple was living in a storage unit. Shawna left him soon after.
Edwards finally passed away in hospice care in 2013 at the age of 58 with not a penny to his name.
2. BILLIE BOB HARRELL JR. - LOST $31 MILLION
Billie Bob Harrell Jr. was supporting his family on paycheques from The Home Depot when he won the Texas Lottery’s $31 million jackpot in 1997. Unbelievably, this entire prize would disappear in less than two years.
Intending to be responsible, Harrell hired an attorney, then took his wife, Barbara Jean, to collect their first instalment of $1.24 million. Unfortunately, his spending was a problem from the start.
First, he donated 10% of the cheque to his church. He gave money to anyone who asked and quickly purchased a ranch, new homes for family members, and a fleet of cars. He gave away more than he had, and people began stalking him and begging for money. Harrell loved the attention and soon picked up a new girlfriend.
Sadly, just eight months after he won the jackpot, Harrell was deep in debt—and his marriage was over. In their divorce proceedings, he agreed to split his winnings with Barbara Jean.
A depressed Harrell was soon contacted by a company that offered to pay him a lump sum immediately in exchange for 10 years’ worth of his lottery instalments. The company would collect $6 million while Harrell would get $2.25 million. Harrell accepted the deal as a final cash infusion for his wild spending—but the money didn’t make him happy.
Harrell committed suicide on May 22, 1999, just 20 months after winning the jackpot. He left a huge estate tax bill and not a trace of the last $2.25 million.
1. JACK WHITTAKER - LOST $314.9 MILLION
History’s biggest lottery loser is Jack Whittaker of West Virginia. He was already a wealthy man when he won the $314.9 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas in 2002. He took home a mind-boggling $170 million cash payout—the largest single ticket prize ever recorded. Sadly, the windfall absolutely destroyed his life.
Jack’s first move was to donate 10% of his prize to local charities and churches. He also sank $14 million into a new charity, bought presents for everyone he knew, gave thousands of dollars to his teenage granddaughter, Brandi, and appeared all over the media with his family.
Unfortunately, Whittaker also started gambling, drinking, and partying hard. He had “more money than God” and everybody knew it. Stalkers and thieves harassed and threatened him and his family.
The seemingly endless wealth had the worst effect on Brandi, who began using drugs. She bought her friends presents and drugs, and soon, one of her friends overdosed. Barely three years after Whittaker’s win, Brandi also overdosed on drugs at just 17 years old; and four years later, her mother followed.
During these tragic years, Whittaker continued gambling and getting into trouble. He was taken to court over DUIs, assault allegations, and millions of dollars in unpaid gambling debts. In an unrelated incident, Whittaker’s house burned to the ground in 2016.
While Whittaker and his wife are still around, it’s abundantly clear that their “lucky win” was the worst thing that ever happened to them.
Though there are various reasons that lottery winners go broke, most tragic stories of lost lottery fortunes have a few things in common. The winners resisted or ignored professional financial advice, were very public about their wealth, and allowed their riches to come between them and their closest family members or friends, while other winners were greedy and didn't keep their promises.
For those who are fortunate enough to win a large lottery prize, the best way to avoid disaster is to hire financial and legal assistance, set up a lottery trust to remain anonymous, and wait a few months before making any large purchases. With proper planning and a little patience, a lottery jackpot has the potential to last generations. Without planning, it can disappear entirely in just a few short months or years—just as the stories above have demonstrated.