Lottery Gone Bad: The True Story of One Unfortunate Lottery Winner

What if you won the lottery? What if you won millions of dollars, to be precise? Would you be over the moon? Most would emphatically answer, “Yes!” But we are here to tell you that winning the lottery has its cons too. It can drag you down, pull you into depression, and even kill you.

Portrait of a happy woman celebrating success under money falling down like rain.
Photo by pathdoc /

Clearly, you don’t believe us. But you will, as we tell you about some real-life, gruesome stories about lottery winners and how their lives started descending in a never-ending spiral of depression, extravagant spending, drugs, and prison until most of them met their end. Read on below and prepare to be shocked.

Humble Beginnings

Luck, like winning the lottery, doesn’t come by every day. Until she managed to hit the jackpot in 2015, Marie Holmes never expected it to happen. A 26-year-old single mother of four worked two jobs – one at McDonald’s and the other at Walmart. Naturally, she never once thought that she’d suddenly have hundreds of millions of dollars at her disposal.

Marie Holmes is standing in front of the camera with a large smile on her face.
Source: NBC

As if it wasn’t hard enough to be working two jobs and taking care of four children, Holmes was a step ahead in having troubles in life. One of her children had recently been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and Holmes had just left her jobs to care for him. So, of course, when she discovered she’d struck it lucky with the lottery, it must have felt like a dream come true.

A Day like Any Other

In February 2015, the North Carolina Powerball jackpot had reached a staggering amount of $564 million. At the time, Holmes was still living in a trailer and struggling to care for her kids. She had no idea she would soon become a wealthy woman. It was at this time that she decided on a whim to buy a lottery ticket from a local convenience store.

Marie Holmes photographed with a friend and her winning lottery ticket held up.
Source: YouTube

“I thought I was going to have a heart attack when I saw the ticket and checked it,” Holmes said when describing the rush she felt from winning the lottery. There were two other tickets sold with the winning numbers, so Holmes would receive only a third of the total jackpot. But that was still a lot!

So You Think You Know How the Lottery Works?

How does the lottery work? Suppose you’ve struck gold with the winning ticket in your hands. You’d expect you’ll be given your winnings right away, right? Not really. If you’ve won $599 or less, you can just get your cash prize from the place you purchased the ticket itself. Larger jackpots, though, like the one Marie Holmes managed to hit, require a longer process.

Photograph of multiple lottery tickets; one clearly shows it is a Mega Millions ticket.
Source: Flickr

The state’s lottery board needs to verify the ticket – which means paperwork! Then, there is a waiting period you have to sit through before any of the funds can be transferred to you. And finally, you must decide if you want to receive your winnings in installments over 30 years, or if you want a smaller lump sum.

Rich Now or Rich Later?

For Marie Holmes, the decision was to be made between the lump-sum choice of $127 million, or a total installment amount of $188 million. Like most of us would do in that situation, Holmes picked the lump sum so that she could be rich right away. Do you think that was the right decision to make?

Marie Holmes is pictured above behind a podium with microphones holding her large lottery check for $188 Million.
Source: Instagram/@moneyman2557

Most financial experts would agree; it may seem like it’s better to eventually have more money in the long run, but this is not true. If you were to take the lump sum straight up and invest it wisely for 30 years, it would have been worth more than the entirety of the installments. Of course, this is only possible if you actually invest the money carefully, instead of indulging in exorbitant spending.

Ticking Off the Bucket List

Although she had never expected to win, Marie Holmes quickly made plans for what she wanted to do with her winnings. First came donations to her church. Second, she was going to use the money to upgrade her lifestyle by moving out of the trailer she lived in and buying a house. Finally, she wanted to set up college funds for each of her kids so that they could have a better future.

Marie Holmes photographed in front of balloons holding up her check for $188 Million on February 23rd, 2015.
Source: YouTube

“All the struggle that I ever went through, it was all for them. I want them to understand that money doesn’t change you, but it can help you,” she said, full of emotion as she talked to the local NBC station.

Public Enemy Number One: Taxes

Now you know how lottery prizes can shrink from $188 million to $127 million, solely based on the payment structure you pick. But there is another challenge: taxes. State and federal taxes can take up a bulk of the prize money. Because lottery winnings are evaluated in the same category as income when it comes to federal taxes, almost 25% of the initial lump sum is already out of the picture. That’s a pretty huge amount!

Photograph of a 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return form along with five $20 bills.
Source: Flickr

For winnings that are big enough to fall into the highest tax bracket, the government can take up to 39.6%. If Holmes’ prize was to be taxed at that level, she’d have had to give up about $50 million in taxes alone. And this is still just the beginning. After federal taxes are put aside, there are also state taxes to pay. In North Carolina, this is about 5.8%.

Struggling to Stay on Her Feet

Having been a low-wage worker at McDonald’s and Walmart, Marie Holmes did not have any experience dealing with large sums of money like her lottery winnings. Despite that, she didn’t want to let the money change her in any way. Her friends and family seemed to believe that Marie had always been a grounded person. They could not see her getting carried away because she’d come across such a fortune.

Marie Holmes photographed talking to press on the day she accepted her lottery check.
Source: NBC

That said, Marie would still be making headlines with the way she spent the money she got. Where the media had once painted her as a winner deserving of her prize, soon it was to turn around and portray her as a frivolous and foolish person. Whether or not she did the right thing in how she dealt with, it was entirely up to Holmes.

No Such Thing as a Low Profile

Of course, winning the lottery is exciting, and you’d want to go out and tell everyone the good news and change your life a bit with your newfound success. It may seem easy at the time, and you’d be tempted to quit your low-paying job, or finally buy the house or the car you’d longed for so long. But financial advisors would disagree. Many experts advise against making big lifestyle changes so soon after making it big and say that you should wait at least six months before you make a big financial decision.

A white trailer not hooked up to a car and held in place by a few concrete blocks.
Source: FEMA Photo Library

Unfortunately for Marie Holmes, she didn’t know this. But who can blame her, really? If you’re living in a trailer and raising four kids on your own, knowing you have millions in the bank, you wouldn’t want to wait another six months either. As a mother, it was natural that Holmes would want her children to be comfortable. Spending money on them was no surprise. However, it was the spending that she did on her boyfriend and his bail that raised the most eyebrows.

Brand New House

The Daily Mail reported that Holmes spent $350,000 on a house that was built on a gated piece of property in Shallotte, North Carolina. When Lamar McDow, her boyfriend, was released from jail, he came to live with her and the four children in the new house. Before this, he’d been living with them in their trailer.

A birds-eye view of Marie Holmes' new white home with a grey roof, black shutters, and a red front door after she won the lottery.

The same article also revealed that after considering the bulk of taxes, Holmes had received $88 million – that was a whole $100 million less than the staggering amount that had been reported in the news! This difference between what she got and what the media talked about would be very important in her upcoming legal adventures.

Girlfriend or Sugar Mommy?

Back in 2014, when McDow was first arrested, he listed his assets to be at a meager amount of $120. When Holmes won the lottery though, him being her boyfriend meant that he was on the receiving end of good fortune too. Daily Mail reported that Holmes used part of her money to help McDow start up his own auto-repair business, and bought him an extravagant $15,000 Rolex that was covered in diamonds.

A large wad of $100 bills is pictured above.
Source: Flickr

McDow, however, wanted to make sure nobody got the wrong idea. Although his bail totaled up to $21 million, he claimed Holmes only paid a fraction of that amount. “So many people are going on that she has paid $21 million to get me out of jail, but that ain’t true,” he said. “It is just 10 percent.”

The War with the Law

As it was, McDow ended up seeing the most benefits from her success – at least on an immediate basis. Within a year after getting her prize, Holmes paid to bail McDow out of jail on three separate occasions. McDow, a.k.a ‘Hot Sauce,’ was a validated gang member who was in jail for drug charges at the time she purchased her winning ticket, and she bailed him out soon after on a $3 million bond.

Lamarr McDow's, boyfriend of Marie Holmes, mugshot from one of the times he was arrested.
Source: Brunswick County Detention Center

When he was arrested again in July the same year, she bailed him out again for $6 million. And yet, despite these two enormous amounts, he got caught up in criminal activities yet again, and she had to pay $12 million to free him. Hopefully, he would learn his lesson – third time lucky, as they say. But McDow wasn’t the only one who got in trouble with the law.

The War Continues

McDow’s July arrest led to charges for Holmes as well. When the police visited their home to arrest McDow for violating the curfew that was associated with his bond release, they arrested Holmes for possession of marijuana. Two other adults in the house were also charged for the same, and Holmes’ four children were all present during the arrest.

Photograph of two mugshots for Lamarr McDow.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Though marijuana has been legalized in over 30 states for medical and recreational purposes, North Carolina is not one of them. Unfortunately, although marijuana usage is about the same among all races, black people are three times more likely to be under the scrutiny of the law. This is just one of the examples of racism Holmes faced.

Sugar and Spice

When McDow found out about headlines that were circulating about his girlfriend for the money she had spent on getting him out of jail, he had to say something, like the good boyfriend he was (uh, not). In an interview with Daily Mail, he said, “We are a couple, and I am the father of her youngest child. This is what people do for each other. She has the money, and she can do what she wants with it.”

Lamarr McDow, age 32, interviewing about his plea agreement and charge.
Source: YouTube

“If I had that money, then I would do the same for her. People are just jealous because of how much she won. People want to see me locked in jail,” he continued. Sounds like Hot Sauce can get pretty spicy when it comes to his girlfriend.

A Lovely Little Neighborhood

Now that Holmes has a lot of money and a big house, everything must be easy, right? Wrong. After a lifetime of minimum wage jobs, moving into an affluent neighborhood meant there was obviously going to be some difficulty. There were some very inevitable class differences, and racism came back to cause more problems. McDow told the Daily Mail that the neighbors were mostly white and had been harassing the family and that he suspected this was because of racism.

Photograph of a large white house with columns at the entrance and a few white park benches.

“One neighbor set up a camera to record everything we were doing,” he said. “If I was driving down the road and going at the speed limit, they would wave at me for going too fast. They did not want us there. They were prejudiced.” And even then, the neighbors weren’t the only nosy people in Holmes’ life.

The Troubles of the Rich and Famous

Like many lottery winners, Holmes probably wished she had been able to keep it to herself that she had won a prize. Many times, when the news of lottery winnings spreads, people start coming out of nowhere to ask for money, and Holmes was no different.

Photograph of a vintage red telephone with a turn dial.
Source: Pexels

McDow confirmed in his interview that the couple had been receiving lots of calls from people of all sorts, looking for someone to provide them with money. He said that when that happened, Holmes told him: “When money comes, there are more problems.” She was right, but she had no idea how many more problems were waiting for her.

God Bless Her Soul

Growing up with a strong religious background meant that Holmes was dedicated and loyal to the church she attended. Therefore, it was pretty natural that one of her first commitments, when she won the lottery, was to give 10% of her winnings to her church. Although it would have been better for her, in the long run, to keep her winnings private and donate the same amount anonymously. But she had no idea.

Photograph of First Baptist Church in South Gardener, Massachusetts.
Source: Wikimedia

In some states, lottery winners can choose to remain anonymous, but in North Carolina, winners are not given this luxury, and their names are published. Though experts recommend that it is better to keep it a secret if you win the lottery, Holmes had no choice due to the state laws. Once the news of her win reached her pastor, misunderstandings arose and destroyed their relationship.

Delivering on Her Promise

Sometime after getting arrested for possession of marijuana, Holmes got around to giving back to her church, as she had promised. Press release at the time stated: “The first thing she promised was to tithe – or give a tenth of her winnings to charity.” To get started, Holmes donated an initial amount of $700,000 to Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

Photograph of Marie Holmes being interviewed on ABC News.
Source: ABC News

The church was grateful for the donation and was to use it on repairs that had been long due. Holmes said Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church was her ‘home church’ and that she was happy that she had been able to give back in some way. According to a representative, Holmes and her family had been going to the same church for decades.

Pastor Kevin Matthews

Outside of Pleasant Hill, there was a pastor who was close to Holmes and her family. Pastor Kevin Matthews claimed that meeting Holmes had been a fate decided for him by God and that he visited the family several times at the new house to minister to them. He said that he tried to help McDow live a better life and make positive changes. Despite these claims, though, there is no real evidence of him having been involved with the family before they won the lottery. Sounds suspicious!

Photograph of Pastor Kevin Matthews, who sued Marie Holmes.
Source: YouTube

Matthews wanted to build a retreat and eventually asked Holmes outright for $1.5 million to help him achieve this goal. He claims that she had verbally agreed, though there had been no formal written statement. Nevertheless, he had gone ahead and put his own money down on the property.

Privacy is Non-Existent

Soon, Holmes found herself in the news again. This time, however, much to everyone’s surprise, it was as a target of a lawsuit from Pastor Matthews. Not so close now, huh? He announced that he intended to sue Holmes for a figure of $10 million, which he likely arrived at based on her initial promise of 10% of her winnings.

Marie Holmes was crying on TV during an interview.
Source: YouTube

However, besides the fact that she had never promised to give him that much as it is, he also seemed to have forgotten about the effect taxes would have on her winnings, as well as her previous donation of $700,000. Matthews said, “Because of the emotional distress and mental stress they put me through, I had to start taking more medicine for anxiety and depression due to this situation.”

Under Public Scrutiny

The situation seemed to backfire on Matthews. After all, suing a church-going woman for a ridiculous sum doesn’t look good from any angle, and especially not when it’s a pastor doing it. Matthews’ suit did not hold up well in the eyes of the public. There is even a series of YouTube videos on the case, each one adorned with profanity for Kevin Matthews’s right there in the title.

Photograph of a used light wooden gavel sitting on a judge's desk.
Source: Pexels

Clearly, people weren’t exactly thrilled about his decision – and who can blame them? From the look of things, it was quite likely his lawyer may not even have followed through on his greed. There is no publicly available information on the outcome of the suit. Additionally, at the time he’d filed the case, he refused to give his lawyer’s name to the public because the paperwork was incomplete. And yet, Holmes’ troubles don’t end here.

In the Next Episode…

As if her life were a Netflix original series, Holmes still had a few more plot twists ahead of her. After Matthews’ suit, it was time for the infidelity arc every soap opera has to at least touch on. It seemed that McDow was not the most loyal of partners, and couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

Lorna Marlowe addresses Marie Holmes on her YouTube channel.
Source: YouTube

In fact, there were also reports of Holmes paying his mistresses so they wouldn’t go after her boyfriend. There was a video circulating around Facebook of a woman who claimed that McDow was taking the money Holmes gave him and using it to buy sexual favors from other women. If that were true, Holmes would probably wish she’d left him to rot in jail and kept all her money.

Fix My Life

It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? If any of us were in her position, we’d be pulling out our hair by now. Tired of the constant drama and attention from the media, Holmes turned to a show on Oprah Network for some advice. The show was called Iyanla: Fix My Life.

Screenshot of Iyanla Vanzant and Marie Holmes having a conversation sitting on lawn furniture during an episode of 'Iyanla: Fix My Life.'
Source: YouTube

Iyanla: Fix My Life is a talk show featuring Iyanla Vanzant. Vanzant is a relationship expert, motivational speaker, life coach, and bestselling author who comes with the Oprah seal of approval. Therefore, it was reasonable to assume that if there was anyone who could help Holmes figure out her life and try to get herself together, it was Iyanla. Unfortunately, even her Fix My Life appearance was drowning in drama.

Mother Knows Best

On the show, Iyanla brought Holmes’ mother in, hoping to be able to resolve some of the issues from the family’s past, but her mother took this as an opportunity to reveal an interesting secret. Apparently, though Holmes thought her winning numbers had been a random selection, they had, in fact, been carefully selected by her mother.

Photograph of Marie Holmes with her mother discussing her life on 'Iyanla: Fix My Life.'
Source: YouTube

“I kept dreaming about your brother that we lost,” said her mother. “His birthday, he was the third child, he’d have been 25 that year. Those were the numbers.” Though the numbers had been picked by her, Mrs. Holmes said she doesn’t regret letting Holmes have a fortune because she wanted a better life for her daughter and grandchildren. And yet, even with all of this, Marie Holmes just could not live in peace. Money really does bring problems with it.

Fixing Didn’t Go So Well

In addition to this secret that was revealed in public, Holmes was dealing with even more issues during the filming of Fix My Life. During the episode, it was discovered that McDow was on the verge of being sent back to prison, this time for a seven-year sentence on even more drug charges – a conspiracy to distribute heroin. You’d think that after three times, he’d finally learn, but we guess that wasn’t hot enough for Hot Sauce.

Marie Holmes holding up the winning lottery ticket on 'Iyanla: Fix My Life' while standing in front of her new white house with a red door.
Source: YouTube

After the filming, another fun surprise popped up. Being as supportive a family as they were, some of Holmes’ relatives began publicly accusing her of having stolen the winning ticket from her grandmother. It felt as if the drama and hardship around Holmes was never going to let up. But somehow, through it all, Holmes managed to remain dedicated to what was important to her: raising her children and giving back to the community.

The Marie Holmes Foundation

If you live in North Carolina, you might hear about the Marie Holmes Foundation doing good work in the local community. Yes, that’s right – Marie Holmes was successful in the mission she set out to do (giving 10% of her winnings), and you can see it in action. Her initial investment summed up to $9.7 million, and much of her money has gone into helping underprivileged children.

Members of The Marie Holmes Foundation, who hosted the Back to School drive.
Photo by Madison Morgan / WwayTV3

The Marie Holmes Foundation often hosts events such as giveaways for holiday toys, school supplies, etc., to help out families who are unable to afford such expenses. The families she supports now are very similar to what hers used to be like, and although she went through so much, it is amazing that she is using the money she got to make a difference and share her good luck.

Gambling Isn’t a Sin!

New problems arose in the form of religious criticism. As a practicing Christian, the question in people’s minds now was: why did she play the lotto? Though in some denominations, gambling is frowned upon and considered sinful, this isn’t always the case. Christian Post reported one pastor who put it this way: “You can’t be against the lottery, but your youth department is doing a RAFFLE! Same thing, pastor. SAME THING!”

Photograph of a stack of black and white poker chips placed next to a King and Ace of diamonds on a green felt background.
Source: Flickr

He went on: “You can’t be against the lottery, and you have a prize of $500 for whoever brings the most people on family and friends day.” Though some believe that gambling hurts the poor, this pastor makes a pretty decent argument that games of chance are fairly prevalent in religious communities. The church can’t pull an ‘it’s okay if we do it’ whenever the situation favors them.

Or Maybe It Is

The debate continued. Christian Post reported another pastor who said: “In Scripture, there are instances of casting lots but usually not for material gain. It rather emphasizes the sovereignty of God. For example, Proverbs 16:33 says ‘the lot is cast into the lap, but it’s every decision is from the Lord.’”

Photograph of slot machines lined up in a nice casino.
Source: Pexels

He went on to say, “Now, having said that, let me tell you that the biblical principles that would dissuade a Christian from gambling are several. First, we must guard against our love of money.” He added that money is the root of all evil. Though there is little to dispute that, given the evil money brought to Holmes’ life, it can’t be all bad since she is also using it for good.

Lottery Winning Do’s

So now you know about Marie Holmes and her troublesome experience with the lottery. Hopefully, if you ever manage to get lucky enough to win the lottery, you’ll remember this story and be careful. First, make sure to sign your ticket. This will make sure that in case you ever lose it, or if it gets stolen, there will be a certification that it belongs to you. Next, find out the specific rules in your state, and make sure you can claim your prize before you run out of time.

Photograph of a sign for the Power Ball lottery at $81 million outside of a Days Inn gas station.
Source: Flickr

If you win a large sum, don’t hesitate to bring in financial experts and advisors who can help you make smart decisions for the future. And finally – stick to your usual lifestyle. Of course, it’s okay to make a few splurges here and there, but if you let it get to your head, it will soon get out of hand, and you may end up facing problems worse than those Marie Holmes had to go through. There is no need for extravagance.

Lottery Winning Don’ts

Winning the lottery comes with a few ‘Don’ts’ too. As much as you can, you would want to keep your fortunes a secret. That’s why the first and most important ‘don’t’ is: don’t tell anyone. You wouldn’t want forgotten people coming up out of nowhere to try and claim you owe them something, would you? Next: don’t forget about taxes. If they aren’t withheld automatically, make sure you set money aside to pay them off later. Taxes can cause a lot more problems since the government gets involved.

Photograph of a variety of lottery tickets with small black pencils on the side to fill out the tickets with.
Source: Flickr

Next, you would want to avoid any and all debt. If you have any debts, you don’t want to keep them around. Pay off as much as you can, and don’t let yourself fall into any new ones. And finally: don’t make too many lifestyle changes too quickly. Your money isn’t going to last forever, and the chances that you’d win the lottery again are pretty slim. You want to be able to sustain your fortune and keep it long-lasting. Good luck!

Read on below about some more disastrous stories of lottery winners, and their ultimate fate.

The Cookie-Packing Millionaire

Michael Carroll was a 19-year-old from Britain, living a casual 19-year-old life when he hit the jackpot in 2002. He won $14.4 million in the British lottery and immediately proceeded to buy a mansion, which he renamed “The Grange.” Young and impulsive, Carroll hemorrhaged his money on drugs, prostitutes, and bold jewelry, even landing jail time in 2006. Now broke and suicidal, he moved to Elgin, Scotland, and vanished off the radar.

A screenshot of Michael Carroll wearing a lot of gold jewelry on his YouTube channel next to his large black car.
Photo by Michael Carroll / YouTube

He was eventually found hiding behind a cookie factory assembly line where he had hoped to remain just another nameless cog in the clockwork. Carroll claimed that he was content with just collecting his weekly salary of $300 from packaging cookies, but we have to admit, his was a hard fall.

Facing the Music

When Ronnie Music Jr. won $3 million in the lottery, he decided that the smartest thing to do with his winnings was to invest in a crystal meth ring. The plan was to buy drugs and then supply them to drug brokers who would resell them at a profit – a seemingly fool-proof plan.

The mugshot of Ronnie Music Jr.
Photo by Johnson City Police Department- Mugshot

But the long arm of the law reaches everywhere, and Ronnie Music Jr. was caught red-handed with more than $1 million worth of methamphetamine, firearms, and ammunition in his possession. He pled guilty to federal drug trafficking and firearm charges and was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Of Love and Painkillers

Ibi Roncaioli and her husband, Joseph, were living the dream – a loving marriage and a lavish lifestyle – until Ibi won $5 million in lottery winnings in 1995. This sudden injection of wealth was definitely going to make their lives all that much better, right? Wrong!

Photograph of lottery winner Ibi Roncaioli with her husband, Dr. Joseph Roncaioli and their grandson shortly before Joseph killed her in 2003.
Source: Court Handout

Ibi gave $2 million of their newly-found riches to her secret child that she had had with someone else. When Joseph found out, he did what any loving husband would do: poisoned his wife with painkillers. He then demanded assistance from Ibi’s family in arranging her funeral, but an investigation was called on him. Verdict: guilty.

Blood is Thicker than Water

In 1993, Suzanne Mullins won $4.2 million in the Virginia lottery. She had no qualms in splitting her winnings with her husband and daughter, and this left her with $47,000 a year. But she fell into debt when she paid $1 million for her son-in-law’s uninsured medical bills. Unlike other lottery winners, she spent most of her cash on her family. Her lawyer, Michael Hart, told the Associated Press in 2004, “It’s been a hard road. It’s not been jet plane trips to the Bahamas.”

Photograph of multiple Florida Powerball and Lotto tickets.
Photo by Robert Gregory Griffeth /

In an attempt to pay off her debts, Mullins took out a $200,000 loan from a company that specifically targeted lottery winners who wanted all their money immediately – apparently, this was a niche market. But when the company realized that they weren’t receiving payments, they sued Mullins and won a settlement of $145,000.

Five Heads are Better than One

America Lopes, a simple construction worker from New Jersey, had a tradition with his coworkers – every year, they would all pitch in together for a lottery ticket. Never quite expecting to win, they hadn’t decided what they would do if they actually won. Like every year, the five friends pooled their money and left Lopes in charge of purchasing the tickets. When Lopes realized they had won, he decided that the other four didn’t need the good news or the money – and he devised a plan. He collected the $17,433,966 (after taxes) and feigning a foot injury, quit his job.

Photograph of America Lopes being interviewed by CBS after winning the lottery.
Source: CBS2

No one suspected his ulterior motives, but Lopes himself let the cat out of the bag when he couldn’t resist confiding in a close friend a week after winning. His success story started making rounds, eventually leading to one of his coworkers found a photo of Lopes on a website along with the date of his winning. The four men took him to court, where the judge decreed that the winnings be split between the five of them. Candido Silva Jr., one of the victims, told the New York Times, “We believed him.” Clearly, a lesson had been learned.

The Marriage that Wasn’t

When Lara and Roger Griffith of England won $2.76 million in 2005, they thought the universe was on their side. They started spending indulgently, buying a million-dollar barn, a Porsche, and vacations to Dubai, Monaco, and New York City.

Photograph of an article headline stating '1.8 Million pound lottery win wrecked my life'.
Photo by Lara Griffiths / The Daily Mail

But life threw them a curveball: their uninsured dream house caught fire, and they had to spend thousands on temporary accommodations. To add fuel to the fire – pun intended – Lara caught Roger sending risque emails to another woman. He then drove away in their fancy Porsche. The couple divorced after 14 years of marriage.

Money Vs. Husband

When Denise Rossi won $1.3 million in the California lottery, her husband was in for a shock – and not a pleasant one. Denise decided to keep her winnings a secret and instead, demanded a divorce. Her poor husband was baffled as to what could have caused this sudden turn in their once-loving relationship.

Denise Rossi being interviewed after winning the lottery in California.
Source: YouTube

But karma had other plans. During the divorce proceedings, a court judge ruled that Denise had “violated state asset disclosure laws” and had to hand over the entirety of her winnings to her ex-husband. Oh, how the tables had turned! Poor Denise now had no money and no husband either.

Generous to a Fault

Billie Bob Harrell Jr. turned out to be quite the philanthropist when he won the Texas Lottery for $31 million. Apart from buying new cars and houses for family members, he also bought humongous amounts of food to be donated. People Magazine reported that, according to his mother, “he played Santa Claus.”

A portrait of Billie Bob Harrell next to a photo of his winning 'Texas Lotto' lottery ticket.

When people heard of his generosity, strangers from all over the city started coming to him and asking for donations. Harrell eventually had to change his phone number to avoid people. But it was too late, and the situation had already strained the relationship between him and his wife. Less than two years after winning, Harrell became estranged from his wife and took his own life.

YOLO – You Only Lottery Once

16-year-old Callie Rogers was shaken to the core when she won $2.67 million in a scratch-off in 2003 – an obscene amount of money for a teenager. But Callie was determined to invest her cash-only in sensible avenues, which is why she spent all her winnings on cosmetic surgery, drugs, and partying. But she soon spiraled into depression once she had nothing left to spend, and all her new-found friends left her too. Any guesses why?

Photograph of Callie Rogers with her significant other and parents in front of a green lawn with trees and bushes.

These days, Callie is all for raising the minimum age for the National Lottery. Speaking to the UK Daily Mail, she said, “At 16, you’re still just a child, and you don’t have any understanding of money and the concept of what it brings.” Well, Callie, just because you needed a bad experience to have some sense knocked into your head, doesn’t mean everyone else does too.

The Lottery Curse

When Daniel “Ears” Carley bought twelve $10 Ontario Big Game scratcher tickets, he never even in his wildest imaginations thought that he would win the largest cash prize in provincial history to date.

Photograph of Dan Carley, then 24, proudly displaying his lottery winnings in 2006.
Source: Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corp

Over the next few years, Daniel made some less than sensible business decisions and investments, apparently fueled by drug use. These days, he’s divorced and enjoying life behind bars for drug trafficking. He was one of the first cases which sparked the debate about the “lottery curse.”

Riding the Drug High

Willie Hurt was described by peers as a ‘family man.’ He won the 1989 lottery for $3.1 million and was delighted to have his life finally turn around. But, ironically, he was not so lucky on the family front. Involved in a gruesome divorce battle, he lost custody of his two children and started looking for ways to cope.

Photograph of Powerball New York lottery tickets.
Photo by Dennizn /

He preferred crack cocaine over therapy and sought solace in his new drug high. After a 48-hour binge on exorbitant amounts of drugs and alcohol, Hurt became aggressive when his new girlfriend couldn’t find their missing stash of drugs. She was later found dead, and, obviously, Hurt was escorted to prison.

Double the Trouble

In the 1980s, Evelyn Adams became a global sensation when she won, not one, but two lotteries in 1985 and 1986, respectively. There were 22 states at the time with lotteries, and there had never been a two-time winner before.

A close up photograph of casino chips on a green table surface.
Photo by Syda Products /

As a New Jersey convenience store clerk, a collective amount of $5.4 million was more than she could handle. She told her family that she “was going to quit playing.” But by 2012, she had lost all her money in gambling at Atlantis City casinos. So much for quitting.

The Tortured Totts

When Martin and Kay Tott of the UK won $5 million in lottery winnings, they were ecstatic, only to realize that they had lost their ticket. They immediately enlisted Camelot Group (UK’s national lottery) to investigate their case, and after 7 weeks, were able to prove the legitimacy of their ticket. But there was a 30-day time limit for reporting a lost ticket, and now the company didn’t owe them anything. Too bad for the Totts!

Photograph of Martin and Kay Tott in their house.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Kay Tott said, “Thinking you’re going to have all that money is really liberating. Having it taken away has the opposite effect. It drains the life from you and puts a terrible strain on your marriage. It was the cruelest torture imaginable.”

The Slow Walk to the End of the Tunnel

In 1998, Gerald Muswagon won the $10 million Super 7 jackpot in Canada. Gerald couldn’t quite wrap his head around his overnight fame and wealth and made some questionable decisions. Canada’s Globe and Mail reported that “he bought several new vehicles for himself and friends, purchased a house that turned into a nightly ‘party pad’ and often celebrated his new lifestyle with copious amounts of drugs and alcohol. In a single day, he bought eight big-screen televisions for friends.”

Photo of a man, a woman, and a teenage boy picking tomato plants on a farm.
Photo by Naturally awesome /

With the fame that got to his head, he clearly wasn’t thinking straight and invested a significant amount of money into a failing logging business. Completely broke, he was forced to take up a job at his friend’s farm as a heavy lifter. In 2005, he hung himself in his parents’ garage, too miserable to live any more.

Broke and Broken

When Keith and Louise Gough hit the jackpot in 2005, Keith decided to put his money to good use: he spent all his money on alcohol, gambling, and horse racing. He bought an executive box at the Villa F, and a con man tricked him into investing his remaining money into non-existent business ventures.

Louise Gough and husband Keith celebrating after receiving their winning lottery check.

Broke and depressed, his dwindling finances took a toll on his 25-year marriage, and Keith soon found himself single and alone. His life began a downward spiral, and he fell into gambling and excessive drinking, eventually dying of a heart attack in 2010.

His Enemies Were Closer Than Friends

When Jeffrey Dampier won $20 million in the Illinois lottery, he decided it was time to make his lifelong dream a reality. He started a popcorn business called “Kassie’s Gourmet Popcorn.” Determined to make a fresh start on life, he also divorced his wife and married a woman named Crystal Jackson.

Photograph of Jeffrey Dampier and Victoria Jackson near a woodsy area.
Source: YouTube

Jackson’s sister, Victoria Jackson, and her boyfriend, Nathaniel, plotted to kidnap Dampier and keep all his winnings for themselves. Three days later, Dampier was found dead in Nathaniel’s van, and the couple was given a life sentence in jail.

Once Bitten, But Not Twice Shy

When Andrew “Jack” Whittaker won the 2002 Powerball jackpot of a whopping $315 million, he was already worth $17 million and became one of the richest people to win the lottery. Used to the lifestyle of the rich and famous, Whittaker was adamant that his wealth be distributed amongst charities and people who needed the cash. But he had some vices which would bring him down.

Andrew Whittaker being interviewed on ABC news.
Source: YouTube

He started paying frequent visits to strip clubs and, soon after, ended up an alcoholic. In 2003, $545,000 were stolen from his vehicle while parked in a strip club parking lot. But Whittaker refused to learn, and a year later, his car was broken into again. He was sued by Caesars Atlantic City casino for bounced checks worth $1.5 million, which he had used to cover his gambling losses. Poor Andrew Whittaker ended up poorer than he was when he had started.

Supporting the Greater Good

In 1993, an immigrant from South Korea, Janite Lee, won $18 million in the lottery. Like a good Samaritan, she spent most of her money on charitable organizations, political organizations, and educational programs (including Washington University School of Law).

Photograph of Bill Clinton and Janite Lee mid-conversation.
Source: Complex

Her philanthropic activities caught attention, and she soon found herself dining with the likes of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. She eventually sold the rights to her annual payment and, not too long after, found herself filing for bankruptcy. Turns out, there is a thing as being too generous.

The Khan Mystery

When Urooj Khan walked into his local 7-Eleven, he had no idea that he would walk out a millionaire. Thrilled with his luck, he told Illinois Lottery representatives about his plans to invest the money into his dry cleaning business. But as fate would have it, he never got the chance to collect his winnings and was found dead three weeks later.

Photograph of lottery winner Urook Kahn with his family.
Source: WMAQ-TV/AP

The initial medical examination concluded that he had died of natural causes, but further investigation revealed that he had been poisoned with cyanide. A homicide investigation was immediately started, but Chicago police could not trace the culprit, and to this day, Khan’s death remains a mystery.

McLovin’ the Millionaire Life

Luke Pittard, who worked at McDonald’s along with his girlfriend, won a scratch-off, and he and his girlfriend both decided to quit their jobs. They hosted a grand wedding, bought a new home, and went vacationing in the Canaries.

Photograph of a McDonald's restaurant in the evening.
Photo by QualityHD /

After some time, the millionaire life lost its glamour, and the couple decided to head back to their old jobs at McDonald’s. Pittard told The Telegraph, “Lots of my old workmates came to our wedding, and I had kept in touch with them all the time, so I just thought: ‘Why not go back?’”

Spending on the Ticket was Toth-ally Worth It

Alex Toth was living a hard life before he became a millionaire. The week before he came into his money, he and his family were living on beans, rice, and canned food, and had only $25 left to live on for the next week. So when Alex won $13 million, it was as if all his wildest dreams had come true. Alex decided to make up for all the years spent in poverty and went on a vicious spending spree.

A cream-colored trailer with a gray roof and shutters, and a small porch attached.
Photo by Paul Wishart /

Toth and his wife spent 3 months living in a hotel room in Las Vegas, which cost them $1000 per night. They indulged in shopping, gambling, and dining, and very soon were borderline broke. Finally tired of their new lifestyle, Alex decided to return to his humble roots and went to live in a trailer with his children.

Spend Like You Mean It

When Vivian Nicholson’s husband won millions on the football pools in 1961, she declared that she would “spend, spend, spend.” And spend she did. Also referred to as “Viv,” she repeatedly featured in British tabloids because of her bizarre antics and the tumultuous relationship she had with her husband. She became a favorite with audiences due to her frivolous purchases, such as a fancy new home, an array of cars, and a wardrobe filled with furs and jewels.

A photo of Vivian Nicholson at an older age behind a sign that says 'spend, spend, spend.'
Source: BBC

But after having her name continually dragged through the mud, she turned to alcohol. She fled to Malta to escape the tabloids and became the subject of an autobiography, but was deported when she struck a police officer in the face. But she had lived a full life, a career as a stripper, a Jehovah’s Witness, and a cover girl for the Smiths single, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” and was almost removed from her nursing home for bad behavior. But it was her amusing comment on September 27th, 1961, which always remained her claim to fame: her intent to “spend, spend, spend.”

All for One and One for All?

Mr. Seward, a regular at a Florida Waffle House, gave two employees envelopes containing lottery tickets. On March 7, 1999, the lottery was drawn, and it turned out that Grand Bay’s Tonda Lynn Dickerson had won $10 million. The other employees at the Waffle House were jubilant because, as a close-knit community, they were under the impression that the winnings would be divided amongst them all.

Photo of a restaurant chain waffle house, which was founded in 1955.
Photo by Jonathan Weiss /

Infuriated by Tonda’s deception, the staff at the Waffle House sued her in court, saying that a verbal contract had been made between them to split the winnings. The court ruled that while an oral contract was enforceable, Alabama law declared contracts related to gambling (which was illegal in Alabama) non-enforceable. This meant that Tonda could keep all her money. She invested in a corporation that granted her family 51% of the stock. But this qualified her for gift tax, and she had to pay $1,119,337.90.

The Joys of Simple Living Can’t Be Beaten

Sharon Tirabassi was living life as a single mom on welfare when she won more than $10 million in Canadian dollars. Business Insider reported that she spent her money on a “big house, fancy cars, designer clothes, lavish parties, exotic trips, handouts to family, and loans to friends.”

A photo of Sharon Tirabassi after winning the Super 7.
Source: Lotto Database

But when the initial excitement of winning wore off – which took almost ten years, mind you – Sharon decided that she’d rather go back to riding the bus, working part-time and paying the monthly rent. She told the Hamilton Spectator that, “All of that other stuff was fun in the beginning, now it’s like, back to life.” Sharon also set up trusts for her six children who will collect their money on their 26th birthdays.

Nice Guys Finish Last

In November 2006, Abraham Shakespeare, a laborer in Florida, bought a lottery ticket from the local convenience store. He became the winner of $17 million, and he wanted no more of the mediocre life that he’d been living. He relocated to a million-dollar home in a quaint, gated community.

Abraham Shakespeare's mugshot from when he was arrested.
Source: Tampa Bay police department

He was one of the few lottery winners who behaved sensibly and didn’t squander his money on extravagant purchases, his house being the only one. But at the beginning of November 2009, Abraham was reported missing, and an investigation found his body hidden under a concrete slab. Turned out that the culprit was his “friend” and business partner, Dee Dee Moore. She was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Moral of the story: trust no one.

Living the Life, and Then Not Anymore

When David Lee Edwards won $27 million, he and his wife went crazy with the spending. They wasted no time in buying a mansion, expensive cars, racehorses, and a private jet. After just one year, it was reported that they had already spent $12 million, but Edwards didn’t care. He continued shopping lavishly for himself and his family and hosting parties (and drugs) at his mansion.

Photograph of David Lee Edwards with his daughter Tiffany in 2010.
Source: Facebook

He and his wife were arrested multiple times for pills, heroin, and cocaine. Miserable, and with all his wealth washed away, Edwards decided to hide in a storage unit that was covered in human faeces. He was placed into hospice and died at 58 years of age.

Losing the Race

Jay Sommers was only 20 years old when he won the Michigan lottery in 1988. Being a professional stock car racing driver, he blew his whole check on five new cars in under three months.

The Bank of America 500 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Photo by Action Sports Photography /

With no more of his winnings at hand, he was forced to deliver pizzas to make ends meet. And sad as it is, he thought people would recognize him as the big-shot pizza delivery boy who won the lottery. He now does construction work while trying to make it big on NASCAR – perhaps trying to claw back into his days of glory.

One Million Dollars and More

Amanda Clayton was a struggling single mom on welfare when she became a millionaire in 2011. That should have invoked the honest woman in her to stop collecting her government check, right? But Amanda Clayton was not as honest as you would expect and continued collecting her $200 monthly food assistance even after the $1 million in her possession. Why use up your winnings unnecessarily when the checks were coming in?

Amanda Claytons mugshot from when she was arrested.
Source: Michigan Police Department

In 2012, a local community member tipped off a TV station, and Amanda was caught paying for her food using her monthly assistance card and then packing up to move into her brand new home. Ironic much? Clayton reportedly stated that she was fully entitled to continue collecting her checks because she was unemployed. Unsurprisingly, there was public outrage and a trial, after which Clayton was charged with welfare fraud and put on probation. She was ordered to pay back the money for the checks from her winnings. One year later, she was found dead from a drug overdose.

From Rags to Riches to Rags

William “Bud” Post III spent most of his life working at carnivals to sustain a meager living. He was 40, and desperate, with just a few dollars to his name, when he decided to spend what he had left on a lottery ticket. In typical fairytale fashion, Bud’s bet worked in his favor, and he became the winner of more than $16 million in the Pennsylvania Lottery.

A sign at a retailer 'We Accept SNAP.'
Photo by Jonathan Weiss /

When a man who has nothing suddenly gets everything, he is bound to go wild. Bud bought a twin-engine airplane (without a piloting license) and after multiple such purchases, found himself in $500,000 worth of debt. To top off his bad luck, Bud’s own brother was plotting to kill him, but Bud survived the attack on his life. He died at the age of 66 of respiratory failure, and was living off food stamps and was in $1 million debt at the time.

Lightbulb Lou’s Lottery Luck

Lou Eisenberg shot to fame when he won $5 million in 1981. People started coming to him for advice about money as if he had not won but earned his millions. Lou quit his job as a light bulb-changer (his nickname had been “Lightbulb Lou”) and bought a condo with an ocean view at Brighton Beach.

Photo of Lou Eisenberg and his wife, pictured on the left.
Source: YouTube

He became the face of lottery commercials and made frequent appearances in the entertainment industry. He spent lavishly on trips to Hawaii and Europe, expensive dinners, days at the track, and – to the consolation of some critics – on people who needed the money. It became widely known that if someone asked him for money, he wouldn’t turn them away empty-handed. By 2001, he was broke and now spends his time going to the dog track in West Palm Beach.