Lottery Winners Who Went Broke: 8 Tragic Stories

Lottery Winner

The prospect of winning a lottery excites everyone. But here’s a fun fact, 1 in 3 lottery winners go broke. It sounds disheartening, but it is true. The reason? The most common reasons are reckless spending, bad investments, and impulsive decisions like quitting one’s job. 

You might be surprised at the ways some people have taken a roller coaster ride from rags to riches and back. The lottery curse gets you in more than one way. Here’s a list of people who couldn’t handle the windfall very well and their tragic stories.

1. Andrew Jackson Whittaker Jr

In 2002, a construction industry businessman from West Virginia bagged the largest jackpot ever won by a single ticket in the American lottery history. The lucky man was Andrew Jackson Whittaker, who had won a massive sum of $314.9 million in the Powerball multi-state lottery. He was having a sandwich at a deli while fueling his car when he spent $100 on a lottery ticket in the supermarket. Little did he know that he would walk out with $113,386,407 in cash on Christmas Day!

A large portion of the amount made its way to deserving causes. He donated 10% of it to Christian charities and churches. He dedicated $14 million to his charitable foundation that provides food and clothing to struggling families in rural West Virginia. The most adorable gesture of all was gifting a $123,000 house, a$44,000 check, and a brand new Grand Jeep Cherokee to the deli manager. So much for serving biscuits to a lottery ticket holder!

Andrew also purchased a Lamborghini and then maybe went a bit too far; he drove around his neighborhood throwing cash. But Andrew’s fortune wasn’t meant to stay with him for the long haul. On the 5th of August, 2005, he made the mistake of carrying around $545,000 in a suitcase. He lost the money to thieves while he had parked his car outside a strip club. Two other close calls followed the robbery. First, two employees at a club were suspected of planning to drug and rob Whittaker. Second, Whittaker lost and retrieved $200,000 in a robbery. 

Moreover, he got bad attention for drug issues involving his missing granddaughter and her boyfriend’s death at Whittaker’s residence. The final nail in the coffin was some bounced checks worth $1.5 million at a casino in Atlantic City. Whittaker justified the situation by saying the slot machines in the casino were problematic. By 2007, he had thus squandered away all the money and was back to where he started.

Andrew Jackson Whittaker Jr - West Virginia Lottery - Win
Andrew Jackson Whittaker Jr – West Virginia Lottery – Win on December 26, 2002

2. David Lee Edwards

In 2001, a $7 ticket purchased at a convenience store turned around the life of an ex-convict in Kentucky. David Lee Edwards, who had spent a third of his life in jail earlier, won the Powerball Lottery in August 2001. He bagged a sum of $27 million in the form of a one-time payout. 

Initially, he tried to hold his horses and hired a lawyer and financial advisor to help him spend wisely. They decided on a monthly allotment of $85,000 and invested some money in bonds and stocks. But David soon lost his restraint and sold off the assets. 

Instead, he purchased a fiber optics business and a limo company, using up a total of $4.5 million. He also wasted some on three racehorses. Before he knew it, he had spent $3 million in the first three months and $12 million in the first year after winning the lottery. 

He bought two houses with his wife, one of them a 600 square foot mansion in Palm Beach Gardens costing $1.6 million. He spent $600,000 on the other house. Next, he went after a collection of expensive cars like Dodge Viper and Lamborghini Diablo, even a $35,000 Hummer golf cart for his teenage daughter. To top it off, he purchased a private jet worth $1.9 million to fly to his house in Florida. 

Apart from houses and vehicles, he also owned items like a $159,000 ring and a $30,000 plasma screen TV. He held about two hundred pieces of antiques, swords, and armor. He also showed off a gold and diamond watch worth $78,000.

The last nail in the coffin was the drug addiction that gripped the lives of both Edward and his wife, Shawna. They had multiple arrests against their name for possessing substances like cocaine and heroin. Shawna was struggling with an Oxycontin addiction in rehab, and both of them would abuse prescription pills. 

The drugs took a toll on their health, and they were diagnosed with Hepatitis. They were falling apart both individually and as a couple. They separated and remarried, but Edward’s living conditions did not improve. He eventually breathed his last in 2013 in hospice care.

David Lee Edwards
David Lee Edwards – From Ex-Con to Lottery Millionnaire

3. Bill Bob Harrell

Struggling to make ends meet for a wife and three children, Bill Bob Harrell had a blessing coming his way in June 1997. He won $31 million in the Texas Lotto jackpot with an annual payout of $1.24 million. 

The first thing 47-year-old Bill did was quit his job at the Home Depot. He celebrated his win with a family vacation in Hawaii. Then he gifted expensive cars and houses to friends and family. He also donated money to the church and the poor. That took an unpleasant turn when he started receiving persistent calls demanding donations.

He tried to exchange his lottery checks at a lump sum amount from a company that provided exactly those services. But the impatience only made way for a bad deal. Within a year, his wife Barbara left him. In 1999, Bill died by suicide in his house. 

Bill Bob Harrell - Lottery Winner
Bill Bob Harrell – Lottery Winner

4. John McGuinness

John McGuiness was a Scottish hospital porter slogging for 150 Euros per week. He won a whopping $16.3 million in the UK National Lottery in 1997. John shared 3 million Euros among his family members and sent 750,000 Euros to his ex-wife. He did the usual drill; cars and houses. Then he threw a 200,000 Euros wedding for himself with his new partner. 

In his enthusiasm, he bought the Livingstone soccer club. He spent the last bits of his lottery money on the debts and loans of the club. It came to a point where he had to sell his property to cover the expenses. Consequently, he spent his days struggling to put food on the table.

John McGuinness - National Lottery Win
John McGuinness – National Lottery Win

5. Janite Lee

Janite Lee, an immigrant woman from South Korea, worked in a wig shop before her life turned around. In 1993, she won $18 million in the Illinois Lottery. Lee would receive an annual payout of $620,000. She bought a million-dollar home for her family in a gated community in St. Louis. 

Apart from that, she did not take a lot of luxury rides. Instead, she became a philanthropist, donating to charity and funding activities for the Democrat Party. Her generosity earned her a dinner seat with Bill Clinton and Al Gore. She had her name on a reading room in the Washington University School of Law because of her contribution to education-related causes. 

However wonderful her story may sound, it ended tragically. She sold rights to her annual checks for a lump sum amount, a pretty common mistake. Within ten years, 60-year-old Lee was in bankruptcy court, left with $2.5 million in debts and less than $700 in her pockets.

Janite Lee - Lottery Winner
Janite Lee with Bill Clinton while working at the White House – Lottery Winner

6. Keith Gough

Keith Gough was the husband of Louise Gough, a woman who had made a fortune in the UK National Lottery. They made the cliche purchase: a spacious house for the family. Then Keith rented a luxury box for $560,000 to watch Aston Villa, his favorite soccer team.

Keith also quit his job at a bakery and developed a drinking problem. Louise left him in 2007. Following that, Keith made his way to rehab. That is when he met a con artist who got him involved in sketchy investments. They emptied almost $1.1 million from his bank account. We can still say that Keith had it easier than the others. Despite falling prey to deception and fraud, he still had $1.3 million in his account when he died. Even at that time, Keith was paying hefty salaries to housing staff. He did, however, die of a heart attack which was probably triggered by alcohol and stress. 

Keith and Louise Gough - Lottery Winners
Keith and Louise Gough – Lottery Winners

7. William Post

William “Bud” Post III was living paycheck to paycheck doing all sorts of jobs like cooking, painting, driving trucks, and traveling with carnivals and circuses. He had been in jail before for issuing invalid checks and often had to tighten his purse. 

On another miserable day, when he had just $2.46 in his bank account, William hit the jackpot. He bagged a mighty sum of $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania Lottery. Within two months, he had spent $300,000 on random stuff like a liquor license, lease for a restaurant in Florida, a used-car lot, and a twin-engine airplane, although he did not hold a pilot’s license. He spent another $395,000 on a mansion in Oil City, Pennsylvania. No wonder he ended up accumulating debt worth $500,000. 

His misfortune came in his landlady suing him for one-third of his lottery winnings since she had loaned him the money to buy the winning tickets. She claimed that they had agreed to split the winnings among themselves. When the case came to court, he was already in debt and refused to pay up. The judge froze his payments for the time being. 

Later, William Post was arrested on a sailboat in 1998 for charges of assault from six years ago. The second blow was William’s brother trying to murder him for the money by hiring an assassin. 

William Post - Lottery Winner
William Post – Lottery Winner

8. Michael Carroll

Michael Carroll was a 19-year-old binman who had been in a custodial sentence as a teenager for shoplifting. He won 9,736,131 Euros in the National Lottery in November 2002. The young lad could not even open a bank account because of his criminal record. Managing finances was a whole new challenge for him. 

Being a devout Rangers fan, he invested a million pounds through Rangers Financial Management. He gave away huge sums of money to his mother, sister, and aunt. But he invited trouble by hurling steel balls at cars and shop windows while driving around in his Mercedes van. He was sentenced to community service and spared jail time with a warning. He soon squandered away money on drugs, partying, jewelry, and cars, all the while getting into trouble for various types of offenses.

As the British tabloids called him, Lotto Lout became very popular through a documentary ‘Michael Carroll: King of Chavs,’ which was released in 2006. Carroll’s life kept taking wild turns with his family being blackmailed for money and his pet Rottweilers being found dead on the property. Finally, in 2010 he was forced to flee his mansion and settle for his old job as a binman in the Downham market. 

Michael Carroll - Lottery Winner
Michael Carroll – Lottery Winner

Final Thoughts

As you may have noticed, there is a pattern of recklessness and impulsivity that contribute to bad decision-making among lottery winners. Holding enough money to buy whatever you want can take you to euphoric heights. Many people give away grand donations and generous gifts to loved ones, which is fine as long as they have a spending plan. The lottery curse is a cautionary tale about how life’s riches wear down to poverty or bankruptcy because of poor financial guidance. 

Lottery Winners Who Went Broke: 8 Tragic Stories
Lottery Winners Who Went Broke: 8 Tragic Stories
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