Mega Millions, the lottery game which is drawing insane amounts of attention lately because of record jackpots, has set a new one: $540 million, to be paid out over several years, or $389 million in cash (before taxes). The winning numbers will be drawn tonight and ticket sales have reached a fever pitch as thousands of people get in line for their chance at such an astronomical win. The prize keeps going up because no one has picked the correct numbers yet; the last life-changing amount was $363 million, just a couple of days ago.
While the people who are taking their chances at a win have good intentions for the money–such as helping out their family–it’s not uncommon for lottery winners to face legal troubles, acquire drinking and drug problems, or even lose their fortunes.
West-Virginian Jack Whittaker knows firsthand how much devastation money can cause, even going so far as to call himself “cursed”. After claiming a winning $315 million Powerball ticket in 2002 and taking the $115 million cash payout, he showed his goodwill by establishing a charitable foundation to provide food for the needy in his home state, donated 10% of his winnings to his church, and even bought a new house and car for the woman who sold him his winning ticket.
But the sudden wealth partnered with being thrust into the spotlight caused nothing but trouble for Whittaker, who was the victim of premeditated robbery and threw down hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a good time. His drinking spiraled out of control and his 17-year old granddaughter–who he had legal custody of–died after being given a substantial weekly allowance by Whittaker, who admitted he hadn’t been paying attention to her. Drugs were suspected to be a factor in her death.
Legal problems dogged his steps–including getting arrested for drunk driving–until he was barely able to make ends meet, and Whittaker has said if he had it to do all over again, he wouldn’t have even bought that Powerball ticket.
While this could be viewed as a case of carelessness on one man’s part, his is not the only case where lotto winnings ended up being a life ruiner. Beyond everything mentioned above, there are a thousand little things to consider when such a windfall comes your way; do you quit your job? Most people would say “obviously”, but if you are a parent you might feel differently. Most people don’t want their children to turn out to be over-indulged brats who don’t appreciate anything because it’s been handed to them (see: Veruca Salt); there’s a reason it’s called being “spoiled”. As in, ruined.
Also, there’s the matter of sharing the love with your family. How do you split up the amounts? Do you give Grandma more because she’s been around longer and deserves it? Do you give your crazy uncle Joe less because you know he’ll just drink it away? What happens when everyone finds out? For that matter, how do you prepare yourself for the media attention you’ll be getting? And perhaps the biggest question of all, at least for me; how do you feel safe? Everyone wants a piece of a millionaire. It’s just a fact.
Of course, these could all be moot points, seeing as how no one has picked the winning numbers yet and the odds of winning that jackpot are about one in 176 million. But the world will be waiting with bated breath tonight to find out.