Unless you're already rich or come from a wealthy family, winning the lottery seems like the only way to vault yourself into that category – the only true "get rich quick" scheme. But if you were holding out hope that someday, a winning lottery ticket would get you out of that dead-end job and that crappy apartment you can barely afford, we’re sorry to point out that you have better odds of getting struck by lightning – at 1 in 700,000 – than you do of winning the Powerball, for example – at a daunting 1 in 175,223,510.
There’s more bad news to rain on your lottery dream parade. They’ve done the stats, and almost 70 percent of all lottery winners end up going broke within a mere seven years. Add to that, in a significant number of cases, the lottery win sent the recipient’s life into a downward tailspin that resulted in tragedy of one kind or another, including violent death and even murder.
Psychologists tell us that a lottery win causes what they call "positive income shock." All of a sudden, you can afford to indulge all your bad habits, and your social circle changes. And, worst of all, every family member and virtually everyone you know will be looking for handouts of one kind or another. If you’re invited to dinner with the fam, who do you think is expected to pay? It’s not all gravy, in other words.
Here’s a look at lottery winners who, one way or another, lost it all in short order.
15 Ronnie Music Jr.
In February 2015, Ronnie Music Jr. won $3 million on a scratch-and-win ticket with the Georgia Lottery. He'd already collected a rap sheet with several felony convictions, but rather than taking the money to retire, the 44-year-old decided to plow the money into his meth-dealing business and turn himself into a Breaking Bad-style kingpin. Almost immediately, he used $500,000 to buy nearly 11 pounds of 80 percent pure crystal meth made in Mexico. Strangely, he continued dealing even when two of his associates were nailed by the police in the middle of his operations. He was nabbed by police in October 2015 with four pounds of meth, $22K in cash, and a 9mm pistol in his car. In 2017, he was sentenced to 21 years in jail. The sentence was six years less than federal guidelines because Music had ratted out a fellow inmate who was involved in a complicated prison-yard scheme. Music had financed the operation where drones would deliver cell phones to inmates so they could direct their meth business from jail.
14 Abraham Shakespeare
Abraham Shakespeare led a modest life in his native Florida when he won a lottery jackpot to the tune of $30 million in 2006. The man was immediately hounded by friends for loans, most of which never got paid back. Within a couple of years, he’d gone through most of that $30 mill. That’s when he met a blonde by the name of Dorice Moore, who became his friend. She told him she was going to help him get rid of all his moochers and hangers-on. In fact, she helped herself to $2 million of his funds. In 2010, shortly before his death, he is said to have told his mother that he wished he’d never won the money. Abraham disappeared in April of 2009, and the following year, his body was discovered lying underneath a concrete slab in the backyard of a home Moore had purchased and put in her boyfriend's name. Moore, who had previously been convicted of insurance fraud, tried various things to make it look like Abraham was still alive, including texting his family and friends from his phone, but they didn't buy it -- Abraham was illiterate. She even tried to bribe people to say they'd seen him recently. Moore was charged with first-degree murder and in 2012, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, along with another 35 years tacked on for a weapons offense.
13 Martyn and Kay Tott
How bad would it be if you won the lottery, and knew it but just couldn’t find the ticket? That’s the hell that Brits Martyn and Kay Tott found themselves in after a lottery draw in 2001. The couple had purchased the ticket in September 2000. The two didn't even realize they'd won until they saw an appeal on TV sometime later about an unclaimed lottery ticket worth £3 million or about $5 million. They checked the numbers and recognized them as their own, but to their growing dismay, they couldn't find the ticket anywhere. Despite that, however, Martyn was able to remember the store, date, and even the exact time that he'd bought the ticket, so he went to Camelot, the lottery corporation, with his case. They were also able to prove that they'd been playing those same numbers in a number of other lotteries around the same time. After a six-week investigation, Camelot concluded that they had, indeed, bought the ticket... but failed to make their claim for a lost ticket within 30 days, as the lottery rules stipulated. The prize became the largest unclaimed lottery fortune since 1994. The couple called the loss the "cruelest torture imaginable."
12 Ibi Roncaioli
Ibi Roncaioli and her longtime husband Dr. Joseph Roncaioli were already leading a comfortable lifestyle in an upscale suburb of Toronto, Canada, when she won $5 million in the lottery in 1991. However, not only did she keep the win secret from her husband, but it also turned out she'd been keeping a lot of secrets from him. She gave $2 million of the win to a man called Stelio Zupancich -- her son by a previous, failed marriage. Ibi had kept the entire prior relationship secret from the Roncaioli family, allegedly because of their religious beliefs. Ibi liked the high life and gambling. There were also allegations that Ibi had been taking drugs and drinking a lot. She was also in charge of the family finances. It's not clear exactly when she went through the entire $5 million since the doctor already had a sizable nest egg built up, but by 2003, the couple was forced to downsize their home because of failing finances, and the doctor found out about the lottery win, which by then was long gone. In July 2003, she was found dead in their home and suspicious medical examiners eventually noticed syringe marks on her legs. Her husband tried to claim he was treating her at home for an illness, but he was charged and convicted of manslaughter in her death. The elderly gynecologist was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2008.
11 Michael Carroll
We all know that guy who, if he ever won the lottery, would blow it all on call girls and cocaine. Michael Carroll of Great Britain is that guy. He was working as a garbage man in 2002 when he won a whopping $15 million in a lottery jackpot. Now, many of us (all of us) would go on some kind of binge after that kind of a win. Michael did, and he didn’t stop until all the money was gone. In his defense, Mike was only 19 at the time of his big win, and he did splurge some of the money on gifts for family and friends. But he soon sank into a party rut that was siphoning the cash from his pocket at an alarming rate, including all the fun vices – crack cocaine, gambling jaunts, booze by the gallon, and at one time, reputedly, the services of four prostitutes a day. Needless to say, the money didn’t last, and by 2009, he was back to looking for work in the sanitation field. He’s talked about the experience in interviews, and while he admitted to considering suicide at one point, he claims he’s happier now. But what else would he say?
10 Andrew Jackson Whittaker Jr.
Bad judgment seems to be made worse with a huge lottery win. Jack Whittaker Jr. won $314 million from Powerball on Christmas Day in 2002. By the time the tax man took his due, he ended up with a cool $114 million in his bank account. He pledged 10 percent to charity, and he even started the Jack Whittaker Foundation, a charitable foundation, with seed money of $14 million. The rest was gone within four years. Less than a year after his win, his car was broken into and thieves made off with $545,000 in cash. On a separate occasion – and why he’d be keeping so much cash in his car is anybody’s guess – $200,000 was stolen from his car. He became a regular at a strip bar, where the dancers, along with the club manager, conspired to slip him drugged drinks and take his cash. He was arrested for drunk driving and threatening a bar manager. James became an alcoholic and split up with his wife. He’d been giving his granddaughter $2,100 a week, money she used to fuel a drug habit that eventually killed her. In later interviews, Whittaker said he wished he’d torn the ticket up.
9 Urooj Khan
Urooj Khan was a dry cleaner in Chicago when he won $1 million on July 19, 2012. He selected the lump-sum option and collected his prize. On July 20, 2012, he was dead. The first medical examination of the 46-year-old determined that he had died of natural causes. But something didn’t sit well with one of the investigators, and the body was exhumed after it had already been buried. More tests revealed that the lottery winner had been poisoned with cyanide. As the police opened up a murder case, his wife and daughter went to court to fight over the estate since Khan had left no will. A third of the estate was eventually granted to his widow, with the remainder going to her stepdaughter. Meanwhile, the murder case has languished. In 2016, detectives issued a statement saying the case was still open and that it was still an active investigation, spurring Khan’s sister to take to the media to complain about the lack of progress. She's implicated her father’s wife and father-in-law, both of whom have denied any involvement.
8 Bud Post
In 1988, Bud Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery. Within a single year that he later called "totally a nightmare" in interviews, he was not only broke but worse, also $1 million in debt. Naturally, after the win, everyone he’d ever known crawled out of the woodwork to ask for a handout. Bud seemed to go the extra mile, however. His ex-girlfriend sued him for a portion of his cash, and her suit was successful. His brother took out a hitman to kill Bud, so he could claim the money for himself. Other relatives talked him into investing in their own questionable businesses, and he lost it all. Post sank into debt and even spent time in jail after he fired a gun at a bill collector. Nowadays, he lives off social security checks of $450 a month and food stamps in a trailer park. Trust no one, friends.
7 Billie Bob Harrell Jr.
Billie Bob Harrell Jr.’s story is a tragedy and proof once again that good intentions really do pave the way to hell. Back in 1997, Billie Bob was a former preacher in the Pentecostal church, down on his luck, and working as a bag boy in a Home Depot store. Then, it seemed, his luck changed when he won a cool $31 million in the Texas lottery. He did what anyone would do – new house, car, vacations. But then family and friends came calling with their problems and needs, an unfortunate development that seemingly every lottery winner has to face. Billie Bob ended up loaning out a sizable chunk of his fortune to leeches who never paid him back a dime. He was broke less than two years later and committed suicide in 1999, a mere 20 months after the life-changing win.
6 Willie Hurt
Willie Hurt won $3.1 million in the Michigan lottery in 1989. Willie, unfortunately, was also fond of crack cocaine – very, very fond. Within two years, he'd gone through his entire fortune and was in the midst of divorcing his wife. They say you have to hit rock bottom for a true addict to figure out it's time to quit, and even broke and facing divorce, but Willie hadn't hit it yet. In September 1991, he was charged with murder when a woman was found shot in a sleazy rooming house where he was staying. According to the police investigation, the two had been on a two-day drug and booze binge when they started to argue. At the trial, police claimed Hurt became furious when he couldn't find any more crack. The woman was shot in the head. His lawyer testified that Willie was broke and that he was so high he couldn't even remember his confession to police. By all accounts, Willie was happily married before the win.
5 Denise Rossi
Denise Rossi had been married for 25 years, and there was no hint of infidelity or any of the other signs of marriage trouble. That's why her husband Thomas was surprised when she abruptly demanded a divorce in January 1997. While he was suspicious, he granted her the divorce, only to find out that days before she had filed the papers, she had won the California lottery to the tune of $1.3 million. Denise tried to keep the secret during the divorce proceedings, but it came out since lottery winning are public. The judge in her divorce case ruled that she had violated financial disclosure laws and ended up awarding the entire win to her ex-husband -- all of it. The judge said determined that Denise had acted out of malice, with a view to defrauding her husband. She even admitted in a deposition that she didn't want Thomas to have access to any of the money.
4 Lara and Roger Griffiths
In 2005, when Lara and Roger Griffiths of West Yorkshire, UK won a National Lottery jackpot of over $2.37 million, they were a happily married couple of 14 years. By all accounts, they seldom even argued. But winning that huge sum of money seemed to drive a stake right through the heart of their relationship. At first, their spending was what you'd expect -- a big house, a Porsche for Roger, and a Lexus for Lara. They went on a lot of expensive holidays, staying in 5-star hotels. Roger quit his job and spent about $33,000 making a record with a band he'd played with in university – a session that amounted to one single track. Despite hiring a publicist for $2,000 a month, the single sold only 600 copies. There were also shopping trips to Louis Vuitton and private schools for their two daughters. Instead of toning down their spending, the couple became more and more extravagant. Without any experience or knowledge, Roger thought he'd dabble in real estate, and Lara owned a beauty salon at one point, but all their investments turned out badly, especially when the real estate market crashed. The marriage was cracking under the strain, and then a freak accident due to a faulty boiler caused a fired that burned down their new home. By 2011, the couple was split up, with all the money gone, only one property left, and a large mortgage left to pay.
3 Barry Shell
Barry Shell from Brampton, Canada, just west of Toronto, thought he'd struck it rich when he won the lottery in July 2009 on a ticket he bought on impulse with the last change he had in his pocket. When he went to pick up the winnings of $4,377,298, as with all winners, he was photographed holding the check, sporting a big smile. Then, he walked out of the lottery headquarters and into the arms of police, who were looking to hold him on a warrant for failing to appear to face six-year-old theft charges. How did the cops know? It turned out that lottery winners in Ontario, Canada are run through a security check before they pick up their wins, and any hits are passed on to the cops. Barry later tried to have the old charges dropped or reduced, but the courts didn't allow it.
2 Amanda Clayton
Amanda Clayton was only 24 years old when she won $1 million dollars on the Michigan Lottery game show Make Me Rich! in her hometown of Detroit in September 2011. She spent a lot of the money on the usual – clothes, trips, family, and friends. The public nature of her win prompted a local news outlet to investigate, and sure enough, they turned up dirt. Amanda had been collecting welfare since 2010 and was still getting payments and food stamps even after her win. When the story became public, Amanda tried to insist that she was entitled to the payments because she still needed the help. The authorities weren't buying it, however, and she was charged with felony welfare fraud. In July 2012, she was convicted and sentenced to nine months probation and ordered to pay back the $5,500 in payments and benefits she'd received since the lottery win. In September 2012, her body was found in a Detroit suburb, dead of a drug overdose. Amanda had led a troubled life, and all the win seemed to do was add fuel to the fire.
1 Dennis Elwell
In late 2001, Dennis Elwell’s workplace lottery group won a jackpot of about $1,450,000. Divided by the group of 12 workers at the D Leonardt & Co. pen factory in the UK, it was still a sizable chunk of cash. Dennis quit his job and moved to Spain with his wife, but somehow, things didn’t go the way he thought they would. After a few months, he wanted to go home, but she liked it in sunny Spain and apparently gave him the news by text message. Dennis returned to the UK, got back his old job, and seven months after the lottery win, he went to work one morning and drank cyanide. Later, at the inquest, his wife said that their first month abroad had been wonderful but that things quickly took a nosedive. She told the hearing that Dennis had tried to kill himself three times even before he’d left Spain. He’d told her he couldn’t live without her – but for whatever reason, he wouldn’t return to Spain. The morning he committed suicide, he sent her a text telling her goodbye. Coworkers said he was chatting in the break room one minute, then told friends, "I've done some cyanide; I can't live without her." As the saying goes, money can’t buy love.
Sources: fortune.com; cbsnews.com; forbes.com