An amazing thing happens to many big-time lottery winners—they become big-time losers.  I have read case after case of these kinds of outcomes.  They tend to go broke within a couple years, their personal lives self-destruct, or both.

Jack Whittaker is just one example.  An extensive article in Bloomberg Businessweek chronicled these dynamics.  Although he was the winner of a $314 million Powerball in 2002, over the next several years his life took many negative detours.  I will spare you the details.

Whittaker’s experience and many others’ experiences too, well illustrate the mental, emotional, and psychological pressures that come to bear in these situations.  In Whittaker’s case, he was already a multimillionaire purely from his own labors long before he ever won the Powerball.  He had built his own company that grew to over a hundred employees.  Unfortunately, free money can often bring out the worst in us.

Mike Kosnitzky is a New York lawyer who has represented several lottery winners.  His observations shed some light on the incredible stress these so-called winners face, as author David Samuels reports:

“In his experience, Kosnitzky says, most lottery winners suffer tremendous guilt as the result of their good fortune; they’re also troubled by family members and friends who feel entitled to their winnings and who become angry when they don’t get what they feel they deserve.  Without access to financially and psychologically sophisticated advice, winners quickly find themselves easy marks for every kind of manipulation and often take refuge in preexisting addictions, which are compounded by seemingly inexhaustible wealth.”

A few thoughts come to mind:

1—Without even addressing the moral and spiritual elements, playing the lottery presents such an astonishingly low chance of winning, you are doing yourself a gross disservice.  Before I would ever play the lottery, I would simply take my cash and drop it into a bottomless pit.

2—Sadly, a large percentage of people who do play the lottery are in the lowest income brackets and therefore can least afford to play it.  Over a working lifetime, if they had simply redirected those lottery dollars into a tax-deferred investment program, their long-term financial security would virtually be guaranteed.  If I was in charge (which I wouldn’t be) I would at least hold the government to truth in labeling and rename the lottery the CVSTS (Citizens’ Voluntary Supplemental Taxation System).

3—Good old hard work has never lost its power.  Applying yourself to your craft, and earning a good day’s wage for a good day’s labor still works today.  Hand in hand with that hard work tends to come self-discipline, integrity, commitment, dedication, honesty, and psychological balance.

I feel sorry for Whittaker and others like him.  Winning a game isn’t winning if you lose in the end.

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About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Johnson Controls at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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