The Curse of the Lottery

Posted on December 20, 2013 by Robert Ringer


Here we go again, another centimillionaire via the Mega Millions lottery — $173.8 million after taxes.  The winner was fifty-six-year-old Ira Curry, who bought her ticket at an Atlanta newsstand.  A second winner, who bought his/her ticket at a gift shop in San Jose, California, had not yet come forward as of the time this article was being written.

Let’s hope that Ms. Curry doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the vast majority of past mega-lottery winners, whose lives became totally unraveled as a result of their newfound wealth.  In this regard, perhaps West Virginian Jack Whittaker is the poster man for past lottery winners.

Back in 2002, Whittaker was the winner of $315 million in the Powerball multi-state lottery.  Since he opted to take a one-time payout, Whittaker actually received “only” a little over $113 million after taxes.

The first reality of sudden wealth that Whittaker was confronted with was an endless parade of people with requests for money.  Some folks didn’t even bother to ask for a handout in person.  They just sent letters — fifty thousand of them! — telling him they needed some of his green stuff as soon as possible.

Whittaker forked over about $50 million before he came to his senses.  But when he backed away from his role as year-round Santa Claus, the mooches became angry.  A number of them even threatened him.

When their threats failed, many of the good folks in West Virginia started suing Deep Pockets Whittaker for a variety of alleged torts.  In fact, he’s counted about four hundred legal claims against him since he won the lottery.

Confused and intensely unhappy, Whittaker began carousing, drinking, and propositioning young gals in strip clubs.  His wife of forty-four years threw him out and, after giving away millions, he found himself with no friends.

But there was one glowing light in his life — his beloved granddaughter, seventeen-year-old Brandi.  Whittaker gave her four new cars and an allowance of $2,000 a week.  It was a real-life Beverly Hillbillies saga, only played out in West Virginia instead of California.

As one might have predicated, having that kind of cash in her pocket led Whittaker’s granddaughter to drugs.  Soon after that, her boyfriend, Jesse Tribble, died of a drug overdose in Whittaker’s home in September 2003.  Then, a little over a year later, Brandi, too, was found dead of an overdose.

Since then, things have only gotten worse for Whittaker.  Stating the obvious in a tearful 20/20 interview, he said, “Money is not what makes people happy.”  Of course, every half-sober, mature adult already knows that.  But it’s important to understand that money also doesn’t automatically saddle a wealthy person with unhappiness.

As popular as the aphorism may be, money is not “the root of all evil.”  And, in fact, that’s not what the source of those words — the New Testament (Timothy, 6:10) — actually says.  Rather, it states, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”  (My emphasis.)

What makes money (and, I would suggest, fame) appear to be evil is the way some people react to it.  From Marilyn Monroe to Anna Nicole Smith to Miley Cyrus, it’s as though money is a demon that brings weak people to their knees.

It seems to me that the trouble begins when people who find themselves with instant riches relate to it in a way that causes them to reflect on that age-old question, “Is that all there is?”  And the answer to that question is always, “No, that is not all there is.”  As Jack Whittaker discovered, money cannot buy friendship, money cannot buy love, and money cannot buy a meaningful purpose in life.

I believe that the reason we see so much of the lost-soul syndrome among Hollywoodites is because the odds of achieving success in the world of glitz and glitter borders on the same odds as winning the lottery.  When you’re suddenly making $10-$25 million for memorizing someone else’s words and mouthing them in front of a camera, it’s not difficult to understand why it might have a detrimental effect on your psyche.  In all honesty, I’d probably feel guilty, too, if I got paid that kind of money just for pretending to be someone else for a few weeks.  (I’d take it, of course, but I’d feel guilty about it.)

This, I believe, is what causes so many celluloid stars to desperately search for meaning in half-baked causes, redistribution-of-the-wealth politics, or adopting a needy child halfway around the world (when they could do just as much good by adopting a needy child right in their own hometown).

To paraphrase Richard Bach in The Bridge Across Forever, when you suddenly come into a lot of money, it’s like being handed a glass sword, blade first.  You had better handle it very carefully while you take the time to figure out what in the heck you’re supposed to do with it.

Bach should know.  He went from journeyman writer to author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (which became the biggest-selling nonfiction book of all time) to bankruptcy in just a few short years.  He took the bait and grabbed the glass sword by the blade.

That said, good luck to Ira Curry.  I hope she reads up on how the lives of most lottery winners have played out and heeds Bach’s warning about money.  Handle it very carefully, Ms. Curry, and, before doing anything foolish, ponder long and hard what it’s for.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

29 responses to “The Curse of the Lottery”

  1. lonny says:

    Most people have a nature too small or weak to handle any real fame or wealth. That's why they implode when it lands in their lap. The people who earn it are acclimated to it.

  2. Tom says:

    I would like to see a strict statistical analysis of all the big lottery winners, has anyone really had a richer life through the sudden wealth or did they end up forever targets for scammers or prey to their own inner demons? Any way you measure the consequences, unearned wealth is a loser for its recipients. It violates natural law.

  3. Anon says:

    I have 11 books out there and another 44 books to publish, none under my name. Not even my wife knows my 'other' name. I do not want the fame. I publish just a few books a year else the IRS would kill me with too much in taxes. I am not in debt, own my own modest home and enough is enough. We must learn to be content with reasonable means.

    • Caroline says:

      I admire people who can finish writing even one book. Do you write every day, at a set time or for a certain amount of time? What kinds of books do you write?

    • Annie Walton says:

      Congrats Anon. You truly used what you had (within Gov. rules) and built your life. The "reasonable means" is certainly your balanced approach, after all, money/fame are tools measuring results. I find that intellect and discipline create a life worth living. Thanks for your original comments. Love it and Happy trails.

    • Leonn says:

      I would love to check out your books…. Thanks for being upfront!

  4. Daniel says:

    It occurs to me that many who have become suddenly wealthy had no prior experience in handling great responsibility. It's like handing over a high-performance car to a child, who has not operated anything more mobile than a bicycle, without restraint, and without training on its responsible use. The outcome, especially for the impetious-minded, is predictable.

  5. Scott theczech says:

    Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5.

    Learning to be content with what we have [have been given] whether large or small, is one of the great challenges in life. RJR writes about this, revealing some thought provoking concepts in GAVEAD (Greed, Arrogance, Victimization, Envy, Anger and Demonization), quite pertinent in behavior brought about through ENVY.

    The way to handle sudden wealth is through humility; seek sound counsel, consider yourself a steward and delegate authority.

  6. Murray Suid says:

    Are there examples of lottery winners who benefited from their winnings?

  7. Heather Carder says:

    I really enjoyed (and completely agree with) this post; sometimes we do no realize that the challenges we face are what keep us grounded and keep the definition in our lives; Basically you are trading one challenge for another, but inviting a whole lot more people in to the picture. My happiest times were when I had little in the way of material things, but all the potential and opportunity in front of me for the taking – now that was wealth!

  8. Wealth does not destroy or change a person. It reveals what the person is. Just like alcohol.

  9. Dave Bross says:

    For more stories along the same lines check out Edward Ugels book "Money for Nothing."
    It details his days as a broker buying up what was left of people's lottery winnings.

  10. Phil says:

    Regarding the adoption issue, I would note that most states' adoption laws have made domestic adoption a much less desirable process when compared to adoption via a number of other countries' orphanages. Here, the number of middlemen involved, lawyers' fees, insane liberal visitation laws that allow birth parents continuing access, and other such matters give pause to any sane person considering adopting a child. I thank God every day that we had the ability to adopt a beautiful unwanted older child with special needs from another nation where children are indeed considered special and protected from exposure to the vile cultural messages that our nation sends them at a young age on a regular basis.

    Great article overall.

    • Anon says:

      "…most states' adoption laws have made domestic adoption a much less desirable process when compared to adoption via a number of other countries' orphanages"

      This makes sense, because why else would you cross the globe for a kid when you can go across town? I wonder, though, if uprooting a child from their native surroundings, culture and friends and transplanting them to a completely foreign land is always in the child's best interests.

      • Phil says:

        Definitely presents challenges, but with lots of patience and love and understanding they can be surmounted. In a number of cultures, while the orphanage system is quite good the kids still are considered "adult" at sixteen and sent out to fend for themselves. I generally think that 90% of the time the kids would be better off dealing with the challenges of a new culture. The issue is certainly real and you will get different responses.

        Yes, adoption as it used to exist in the U.S. has been gutted for the most part, in most states. The middlemen lawyers, social workers, govt. employees, etc., need work don't you see?

  11. Robby Bonter says:

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch house no one can make a $50 bet on a football game in Atlantic City, or online, because those who know better about what we need and want, than we do, squashed it, yet again. See, the kick-back TO THEM has to make it worth their while, or they stonewall.

  12. Robby Bonter says:

    So let me get this straight, to be a "stand-up" kind of guy I am supposed to love war and hate money. How much philanthropy do war contractors engage in, besides contributing kick-back campaign funds and bag money for "public serpent" lackeys they own?

    Mr. Carnegie, in his wealth-saturated insanity, financed the construction of 11,000 (!), public libraries in this country. One of them I used to patronize, in Medford, Oregon, had a plaque on the wall commemorating the philanthropy of Mr. Carnegie, for his generous gift for its construction, back in 1911. Curses on these selfish, greedy, wealthy snobs, anyway. If only Mr. Carnegie could have been a James Carville "trailer trash" puppy, and found real happiness living in squalor on beans, pork rinds, and soda pop.

  13. Robby Bonter says:

    If I won a whopping lottery, I would do on a larger scale exactly what I am doing now, quite modestly, yet consistently, and that is stockpile soap bars and tubes of toothpaste. You see, when the fiat currency crash comes, he who owns the gold but lacks survival resources, will not be making the rules, "He" will be at my front door begging for a handout so that he can take a cleansing bath or shower, and brush his teeth. That's where will expropriate an extensive measure of what used to be considered his wealth, his land, his home, and his valuables.

    I plan on charging one silver coin per soap bar, and one gold coin for three tubes of toothpaste. And the lemmings will give me what I ask and be grateful to me. Do you really think that when the crash comes, there will be any soap or toothpaste left on the supermarket shelves? Hell, there won't even be any markets that are open on Day Two of the economic apocalypse.

    He who has survival capability leverage will make the rules, when this house of cards economy collapses. Look me up, I will be expecting you. lol.

  14. Mike says:

    Good luck Robby,
    Not saying you are wrong for trying and I'm sure you have a way to protect your supplies, but what are you going to do when the government officials confiscate your little cache of goods to be "fairly" redistributed for the "public good'?

  15. Robby Bonter says:

    You are a "mole," Mike. Now go get a "real" job.

  16. Robby Bonter says:

    "The love of evil is the root of all money." (George Soros.)

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  18. Juan Truqui says:

    Winning the Lottery is a wonderful thing, because in so many cases money can right the wrong and bring happiness to all of us. But there is a catch with the Lottery's money: because it is a public affair, the money brings a lot of unwanted publicity.
    How to handle the pressures of being a 'public millionaire'? The solution is so very simple. There is a book in Kindle-Amazon called Manual for Surviving the Lottery Curse or a bit of advice for Lottery winners.The book outlines strategies to survive the so-called ':ottery Curse'. The message in the book is so powerful and it is delivered in such a simple way. It's worth every penny… it is a must read -even if you haven't won the lottery yet!!!

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