On Jan. 29, the Powerball jackpot was over $396 million, and someone won it. That’s the type of money that could certainly change your life — but not necessarily for the better. Several jackpot winners have fallen victim to the “lottery curse,” with some ending up broke, divorced — or even dead.
“It’s just upheaval that they’re not ready for,” Don McNay, a financial consultant to lottery winners and the author of “Life Lessons from the Lottery,” told Time. “It’s the curse of the lottery because it made their lives worse instead of improving them.”
If you haven’t won a Powerball jackpot yet, it could actually be a blessing in disguise.
Last updated: Feb. 6, 2020
Money Doesn't Make You Happy -- Really
If you have 99 problems, winning the lottery will only solve one. Although it would be nice to never worry if you have enough money on your debit card before you make that big purchase, there might be other things in your life that money can’t improve — including your mood.
A 2018 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research on the long-term effects of winning the lottery found that winning does not have a substantial effect on people’s day-to-day happiness.
“We found there’s no strong evidence that lottery winners are happier in the long run,” New York University economics professor Dr. Daniel Cesarini, a co-author of the study, told Time.
You Won't Be Deluged With Requests for Help
Many lottery winners are overwhelmed with the number of people who ask them for handouts, and some winners end up giving too much away.
Sharon Tirabassi won a $10.5 million jackpot in Canada and had spent almost all of her winnings just nine years later, The Hamilton Spectator reported. Tirabassi said she gave too much of her earnings to family and friends in need. She gave her parents $1 million and another $1.75 million to her siblings. She also paid people’s rents and gave loans to friends in financial need or who wanted to start a business. Some people who asked her for help disappeared from her life shortly after.
“Money is the root of all evil,” Tirabassi told the paper.
You Might've Spent It All and Ended Up Broke
Although the number of lottery winners who end up broke might be inflated, it’s still a possibility.
That’s what happened to David Edwards, who was one of two Powerball winners in 2001 who won a $295 million jackpot. He spent his money frivolously, buying things like a new house in a gated community, private flights, more than a million dollars worth of cars, a $78,000 watch, a $59,000 ring and a $30,000 plasma TV. A series of bad business decisions and serious overspending led Edwards to eventually go broke, and he ended up living in a storage unit, the Broward Palm Beach New Times reported.
Managing That Much Money Can Be a Full-Time Job
You’ll need help to manage your winnings, and you’ll have to find someone you can trust. Unfortunately, not all financial advisors are equipped to manage such large sums of money. Such was the case for $590 million Powerball winner Gloria Mackenzie, who is suing her son for hiring a financial advisor who she alleges has mismanaged her funds. Her lawsuit, which was pending as of April 2019, claims that she has suffered damages in excess of $10 million.
“The money was earning between .02% and .08%,” Greg Anderson, Mackenzie’s attorney, told CNBC. “Then Gloria was charged $2 million in fees.”
Anderson warns against trusting just anybody to manage a large windfall like a Powerball win.
“Your stockbroker friend down the street may have some good advice, but how fiscally responsible are they if they’re wrong?” Anderson said.
Your Kids and Family Members Can Suffer
Stories of children who were raised in wealth and struggled because of it are not unusual.
When Jack Whittaker won a $315 million Powerball jackpot in 2002 he shared his winnings with his granddaughter Brandi Bragg, which ended up fueling her drug addiction.
“She doesn’t want to be in charge of the money; she doesn’t want to inherit the money; she just looks for her next drugs,” Whittaker told ABC News. “She said, ‘Pawpaw, all I care about is drugs.’ It broke my heart.”
Bragg was found dead, wrapped in a plastic sheet, in 2004.
“My granddaughter is dead because of the money,” Whittaker said.
Now You Don't Have To Worry About Problems With Friends
Although true friends will be happy about your good fortune, there could be some who are envious or downright angry about your luck. And you never know who will try to take advantage of you.
Lottery winner Sandra Hayes, who split a $224 million Powerball win with a dozen of her co-workers in 2006, said her windfall turned some friends into enemies.
“I had to endure the greed and the need that people have, trying to get you to release your money to them. That caused a lot of emotional pain,” Hayes told the Associated Press. “These are people who you’ve loved deep down, and they’re turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me.”
The Tax Bill for Winning Is Enormous
The cash value of the Jan. 29 jackpot was $274.6 million, which would generate a federal income tax bill of around $102 million, assuming the winner were taxed at the 37% tax rate, according to the Powerball.net tax calculator.
“The big impact on winnings is taxes,” Dan Routh, CFP and wealth advisor at Exencial Wealth Advisors in Oklahoma City, told CNBC. “If you win, just realize how big the tax bill can be and make sure you’re ready to handle it.”
Winners Can't Always Remain Anonymous
Only six states — Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina — allow lottery winners to remain anonymous. In the rest, winners’ names are made public, leaving them vulnerable to being sought out by greedy strangers.
One extreme example of this is the case of Abraham Shakespeare, who won $31 million in the Florida Lottery in November 2006. After he won, he was approached by a woman named Doris “Dee Dee” Moore, who claimed that she wanted to write a book about him, the Associated Press reported. Moore eventually got him to trust her to manage his money and allegedly swindled him out of his remaining winnings. She was later found guilty of murdering Shakespeare.
Winners Can Become Targets of Crimes
Shakespeare isn’t the only lottery winner who became a victim of crime. Several other lottery winners have been robbed, kidnapped and even killed for their winnings.
In 2005, Illinois lottery winner Jeffrey Dampier Jr. — who along with his former wife had won an estimated $20 million jackpot — was kidnapped and killed by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend, ABC News reported. Dampier’s body was found in the boyfriend’s van with $1,500 cash in his pocket.
Now You Don't Have To Move
Some lottery winners are harassed to the point where they need to leave town to get some peace.
Mavis Wanczyk, a hospital worker from Chicopee, Massachusetts, had to have police stationed by her house after she won a $758.7 million Powerball jackpot. In addition to media swarming her neighborhood, police reported that people had been knocking on doors in her area trying to find out where she lives, CNBC reported.
Winning Can Lead To Divorce
McNay told Time that it’s not uncommon for lottery winners to end up divorced. This is not too surprising given that about one-fifth of divorces are caused by money-related issues.
That’s the fate that befell Roger and Lara Griffiths, who won 1.8 million pounds in the lottery. They spent their winnings on a dream home, a Porsche, a Lexus and private school for their kids. But the Griffiths soon found themselves arguing constantly about money, and six years later their marriage had crumbled, the Daily Mail reported.
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Karen Doyle contributed to the reporting for this article.
About the Author
Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert.