Lottery Winners Who Lost it All

Lots of folks play the lottery with dreams of winning it all. What are the odds of winning? You are more likely to be killed by a vending machine (1-112 million), die from being left-handed (1-4.4 million), being born with 11 fingers and toes (1-11,500), getting killed by fireworks (1-616,488), dating a super model (1-88,000), or being killed by a mountain lion (1-32 million) than you are to win the mega millions lottery jackpot (1-175 million).

Most of us have a hard time getting our minds around what 1-175 million really means. Stanford University mathematician Keith Devlin offered this translation: “Imagine a standard NFL football field. Somewhere in the field, a student has placed a single, small, common variety of ant that she has marked with a spot of yellow paint. You walk onto the field blindfolded, and push a pin into the ground. If your pin pierces the marked ant, you win. Otherwise you lose. Want to give it a go?”

Winning the lottery may actually be worse than losing it. Stories abound of newly made millionaires mismanaging their windfall and ending up destitute and alone.

Jeffrey Dampier Jr. seemed to be handling the $20 million he won in Illinois in 1996 relatively well. He moved to Florida, took care of his family and bought a business. But in July 2005, he was kidnapped and killed by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend. Despite Dampier’s apparent generosity, the motive was still greed, prosecutors said.

Evelyn Adams, who won the New Jersey lottery not just once, but twice (1985, 1986), to the tune of $5.4 million. Today the money is all gone and Adams lives in a trailer.

William “Bud” Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988 but now lives on his Social Security. “I wish it never happened. It was totally a nightmare,” says Post. A former girlfriend successfully sued him for a share of his winnings. It wasn’t his only lawsuit. A brother was arrested for hiring a hit man to kill him, hoping to inherit a share of the winnings. Other siblings pestered him until he agreed to invest in a car business and a restaurant in Sarasota, Fla., — two ventures that brought no money back and further strained his relationship with his siblings.

Post even spent time in jail for firing a gun over the head of a bill collector. Within a year, he was $1 million in debt. Post admitted he was both careless and foolish, trying to please his family. He eventually declared bankruptcy. Now he lives quietly on $450 a month and food stamps.

Suzanne Mullins won $4.2 million in the Virginia lottery in 1993. Now she’s deeply in debt to a company that lent her money using the winnings as collateral.

Ken Proxmire was a machinist when he won $1 million in the Michigan lottery. He moved to California and went into the car business with his brothers. Within five years, he had filed for bankruptcy.

Willie Hurt of Lansing, Mich., won $3.1 million in 1989. Two years later he was broke and charged with murder. His lawyer says Hurt spent his fortune on a divorce and crack cocaine.

Charles Riddle of Belleville, Mich., won $1 million in 1975. Afterward, he got divorced, faced several lawsuits and was indicted for selling cocaine.

Missourian Janite Lee won $18 million in 1993. Lee was generous to a variety of causes, giving to politics, education and the community. But according to published reports, eight years after winning, Lee had filed for bankruptcy with only $700 left in two bank accounts and no cash on hand.

One Southeastern family won $4.2 million in the early ’90s. They bought a huge house and succumbed to repeated family requests for help in paying off debts. The house, cars and relatives ate the whole pot. Eleven years later, the couple is divorcing, the house is sold and they have to split what is left of the lottery proceeds. The wife got a very small house. The husband has moved in with the kids. Even the life insurance they bought ended up getting cashed in.

The words of wisdom that immediately comes to mind are from the pen of the Apostle Paul who warned:

“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9).

He goes on to admonish:

“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:10-11)

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