lottery winners bad luck

Lottery Curse Victims: 7 People Who Won Big & Lost Everything

Riches-to-Rags Stories of ‘Cursed’ Lottery Winners

Many people think winning the lottery would be the answer to their prayers and the solution to all of their problems — but some winners have had the opposite experience. Despite being lucky enough to win the lottery, they later wished they’d torn up their ticket rather than redeeming it.

It may seem impossible that you could win millions of dollars and wish you hadn’t. But it’s happened often enough that the phenomenon has been dubbed the “lottery curse.”

Don’t believe it? Here are seven victims of the lottery curse — people whose “lucky” win turned sour, leading to divorce, bankruptcy, or even death.

These stories are cautionary tales, but there are plenty of jackpot winners who have gone on to put their money to good use for themselves and their communities. Read through to the end for tips on how to handle a jackpot responsibly and enjoy your winnings.

Jack Whittaker: “Since I Won the Lottery, There’s No Control for Greed”

Unlike many winners, Andrew “Jack” Whittaker was already wealthy when he won the largest jackpot ever awarded to a single Powerball ticket on Christmas morning in 2002. He chose a lump sum payment instead of an annuity, so he took home $113-some million from his $314.9 lottery ticket.  

He added that to the money that he’d earned himself, working his way up from poverty to the owner of a West Virginia contracting company. When he bought the ticket, his company was doing about $15 million a year in contracts.

However, Jack Whittaker found his lottery winnings changed him more than the wealth he’d earned himself did.

Jack Whittaker did a lot of good with the money he won, setting up a charitable foundation, donating money to build churches in West Virginia, and even giving the woman who sold him the winning ticket a new house, a new car, and a pile of cash.

Nevertheless, the lottery curse hit him.

Not all states let winners stay anonymous, and Jack Whittaker’s win was widely publicized. He was deluged with people asking for money and favors.

He developed a habit of leaving large amounts of money in his car, which became widely known. One evening, when he was visiting a strip club, someone stole about half a million dollars out of his car. Later, in a separate incident, $100,000 was stolen from another car.

Furthermore, his company was hit with frivolous lawsuits from people who wanted to get access to deep pockets, costing him millions in legal fees.

Under the strain, Whittaker started to unravel. He started drinking hard and getting into fights. He’d get handsy with women and offer them money to sleep with him or take off their clothes for him.  

But that’s, by far, not the worst of it.

He enjoyed spoiling his granddaughter, Brandi. He gave her a huge allowance and four cars, but his generosity backfired when her wealth attracted a bad crowd.

A boyfriend of Brandi’s died of an overdose in a house Whittaker was developing, and Brandi was implicated. Friends wouldn’t even let her attend the funeral.

A year later, Brandi was found dead under suspicious circumstances, though the case was never solved.

The deaths had devastating consequences for his family. His daughter, Brandi’s mother, was found dead seven years after the jackpot was won. Whittaker’s wife divorced him.

Whittaker lost the people he loved and the money that he won.

“Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed,” Jack Whittaker said. “I think if you have something, there’s always someone else that wants it. I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”

You can read more about Jack Whittaker’s story here: Powerball Winner Says He’s Cursed.

Six victims of the lottery curse: people whose 'lucky' lottery win led to divorce, bankruptcy, or even death.

Powerball jackpot: 13 unlucky lottery winners who were ‘cursed’ by the money

A Powerball sign shows an estimated jackpot of $1.5 billion at Coach Liquor in Detroit, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. A lottery official says the estimated Powerball jackpot will be over a billion.

(Paul Sancya | The Associated Press)

The Powerball jackpot is still shooting sky high as eager players continue to buy last minute tickets with hopes of landing the $1.5 billion grand prize.

As the drawing nears, ideas about lavish plans for the money run rampant, but more than a few major lottery winners might tell you that striking it rich isn’t always a dream come true.

“Seventy percent of people who land a big windfall, lose it within several years,” Brian Benham, president at Benham Advisory Group, told NBC News. “Many are not prepared for such a massive change in lifestyle and they don’t set a budget, (but) even millionaires need a budget.”

Take a look at what happened to these 13 lottery winners who didn’t stay lucky for long.

1. Jeffrey Dampier won $20 million in the Illinois lottery in 1996, and was generous with his prize, treating family members to gifts and vacations. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for his his sister-in-law and her boyfriend, who kidnapped and killed Dampier in 2005. His widow told the Tampa Bay Times she is afraid to go near the lottery now.

2. Evelyn Basehore nee Adams won the New Jersey Lottery twice in the 1980s, earing a total of $5.4 million. She gambled away her fortune in Atlantic City. In 2012, she told the NY Post that she was broke, working two jobs and living in a trailer park.

3. Donna Mikkin won $34.5 million in the New York State Lottery in 2007. In a blog post in 2014, she described suffering “emotional bankruptcy.” She was happy before the win, but wrote, “When we won the lottery, my inner dialogue was manic. I became more concerned about how I was being judged and perceived, not realizing I was the one doing the judging in the first place.”

4. Vivian “Viv” Nicholson won 152,000 pounds in Britain in 1961, an amount equal to more than $5 million U.S. in 2016, factoring in inflation. She cried “spend, spend, spend!” when she won, but after her spending was done, she was unable to pay taxes. Her husband died when she was 27, and she ended up working briefly as a stripper, struggling with alcohol and depression after she won, according to a Guardian profile from 2003.

5. Sandra Hayes won the Powerball jackpot in Missouri in 2006, splitting $224 million with a dozen coworkers. She told The Associated Press that her friends and family became greedy after she won. “That caused a lot of emotional pain. These are people who you’ve loved deep down, and they’re turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me,” she said.

6. Janite Lee won an $18 million jackpot in St. Louis in 1993. She donated much of her prize to charities and the political campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, but ended up buried in debt in 2001, and forced to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, according to Time.

7. Abraham Shakespeare won a $30 million jackpot in Florida in 2009. He was was shot twice in the chest and buried under a slab of concrete by DeeDee Moore, who befriended Shakespeare after the win, ABC News reported.

8. Billy Bob Harrell, Jr., won the Texas Lottery jackpot of $31 million in 1997. He quit his job, bought homes for himself and his family, and made major donations to his church. But just 20 months after winning, he was broke, and killed himself with a shotgun. He reportedly told a financial adviser, “Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” according to the Houston Press.

9. Jack Whittaker won a $315 million jackpot in 2002. Whittaker was already a millionaire, but went broke four years later and lost his daughter and granddaughter to drug overdoses which he blamed on the money, according to ABC News. He was also robbed of $545,000 while sitting in his car at a strip club eight months after winning.

10. Denise Rossi won $1.3 million in the California lottery in 1996, but hid her windall from her husband. She divorced him two days later. When he eventually found out, he sued her. A judge found that she acted out of fraud and malice, and awarded her husband the entirety of her prize, according to the LA Times.

11. Ibi Roncailoli won $5 million in a Canadian Lotto/649 drawing in 1991. She gave $2 million of it to a son she had with another man. When her husband found out about her secret life, he poisoned her to death. He was found guilty of manslaughter in 2008, according to the Toronto Star.

12. Suzanne Mullins won $4.2 million in a Virginia lottery in 1993. She took the payment over 20 years, but paid more than $1 million in medical bills for an uninsured son-in-law. She took out a loan against the future payments, but when the rules began allowing a lump sum payout in 2000, she decided to collect the remainder of her winnings and stopped paying her loans. She ended up broke in court in 2004, the Associated Press reported.

13. Alex and Rhoda Toth won $13 million in a Florida lottery in 1990. Their annual payout was $666,666.66 for 20 years. They were poor before winning, lived lavishly for several years, but crashed hard and were charged with tax fraud, the Tampa Bay Times reported in 2006. Alex suffered a stroke and died before the trial, but Rhoda pleaded guilty, served two years in prison and was ordered to pay $1.1 million to the IRS.

The Powerball drawing will be Wednesday night at 10:59 p.m. Tickets are $2, and sales usually stop one hour before the drawing. If no one wins on Wednesday, the jackpot will soar to $2 billion.

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