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What is the one thing all lottery winners have in common?

Winning the lottery is a dream for many people. The chance to win millions of dollars and change your life forever is an alluring prospect. Yet the reality of winning the lottery is more complex than simply gaining sudden wealth. When looking at the experiences of past major lottery winners, patterns begin to emerge. Despite their newfound riches, lottery winners still struggle with many of the same issues in life and end up sharing a key trait in common.

The Odds of Winning Are Infinitesimally Small

The first shared aspect of lottery winners is that beating the odds to win is exceedingly rare. Consider the chances of winning the Powerball jackpot, one of the largest national lotteries. The odds sit at 1 in 292,201,338. To put this in perspective, you are significantly more likely to be killed by a lightning strike (around 1 in 500,000) or be attacked by a shark (1 in 3.7 million). Other unlikely events are being canonized as a saint (1 in 20 million) or becoming president (1 in 10 million). Yet people win the lottery nonetheless, however minuscule the probability.

The true odds of winning are even lower when considering the number of people playing. With millions of lottery ticket buyers, multiple people often choose the same numbers. Winning requires matching not only all your main numbers, but also the powerball. As such, splitting the jackpot with other winners is common. The more players there are, the more you must divide the prize.

Taxes Take a Large Chunk

Once you beat the astronomical odds, both federal and state governments want their share in taxes. In the United States, lottery winnings above $5,000 are taxed at the highest federal income tax rate, which currently sits at 37%. Some states add on top of this, with a combined tax rate of over 50% in some areas. For example, a $50 million jackpot would immediately lose around $18.5 million to taxes, with $31.5 million remaining. Further taxes apply once winners invest or spend their winnings.

Annuity or Lump Sum

Lottery winners must choose between receiving their prize as an annuity paid out over 30 years or taking a reduced lump sum up front. The lump sum is typically about 50-70% of the total prize amount. While the annuity offers bigger total payouts, most winners opt for the immediate lump sum. The time value of money makes receiving millions immediately more appealing. Also, with prudent investing, winners can grow their lump sums to equal or exceed the annuity payments.

However, lump sums also carry risks. With so much newfound money, some winners make poor financial choices or fall victim to fraud. Carefully investing the lump sum and living within the means of its generated income is essential.

Winning Can Isolate You

With their identities exposed, lottery winners often face isolation and new hardships. Studies show that winning the lottery often harms social relationships:

  • Lottery winners have an increased likelihood of divorce. Marriages fall apart from financial disputes or differences in spending habits.
  • Friends and family members frequently ask for money. Saying no ruins these relationships. Saying yes risks enabling poor financial decisions.
  • Jealousy about wealth gains causes rifts between lottery winners and friends or relatives.
  • New suspicious strangers approach winners with investment scams or fake charities.
  • Constant requests for money leads lottery winners to isolation. Moving away or cutting off contact becomes common.

Essentially, the sudden influx of cash inverts the usual social order for lottery winners. New tensions and disputes arise. Many winners lose contact with former friends and even close family. Their prizes cost them their relationships.

Beware “Lottery Curses”

Stories of lottery “curses” and winners meeting tragic ends feed public perceptions. However, research shows no statistical evidence that winning the lottery provokes worse life outcomes. Still, some winners do experience devastating events:

  • Jack Whittaker, winner of $315 million in 2002, lost his granddaughter to drug overdoses, faced multiple lawsuits, and went bankrupt.
  • Jeffrey Dampier won $20 million in 1996 and was later kidnapped and murdered by his own sister-in-law.
  • Williams “Bud” Post won $16.2 million in 1988 but ended up broke and living on social security.

These sad tales stoke fears over lottery curses. But such problems largely result from a failure to plan for lifestyle changes and manage the complexities of coming into sudden wealth.

Managing Finances Proves Difficult

Coming into millions of dollars can complicate finances instead of easing them. Studies consistently show winning the lottery rarely leads to lifelong wealth and happiness:

  • About 70% of lottery winners exhaust their winnings within 5 years or less.
  • Nearly one-third of major lottery winners eventually declare bankruptcy.
  • Less than 2% of previous NBA players are millionaires just 5 years after retirement.

Maintaining long-term wealth requires discipline and skill. Lottery winners obtaining instant millions frequently fall victim to:

  • Poor investments – Winners make awful business decisions or get-rich-quick schemes that lose money.
  • Excess spending – Lavish houses, cars, vacations, and gifts drain lottery winnings quickly.
  • Reckless generosity – Giving freely to family/friends leads to being taken advantage of.
  • Lifestyle inflation – Expensive tastes for travel, dining out, etc. exceed responsible budgets.

Good financial planning and wealth management proves vital for maintaining lottery fortunes. Most winners are unprepared for the complexities of wisely handling millions.

Beware Taxes on Investments

Winners must exercise particular caution when investing their winnings. Taxes on investment gains can rapidly eat away at principal amounts. For example, take a $10 million lump sum with $3 million lost to initial taxes. If the remaining $7 million is invested and sees a 10% return, or $700,000, taxes take around $259,000 of this added income. Much greater returns are needed just to outpace taxes.

Sustainable investing and equitable asset distribution is key. Wealth advisors become indispensable. Winners who rashly chase risky returns often face disaster.

Winning Can Put Target on Your Back

Publicly winning millions makes lottery winners targets for criminals seeking to take advantage. Security concerns become a new reality of life. Lottery winners face elevated risks of:

  • Lawsuits – Predatory lawyers exaggerate injury claims to target winners.
  • Scams – Fake charities, investment pitches, etc. defraud winners.
  • Robbery – Criminals target winners for home invasions, muggings.
  • Kidnapping – Hostage takers seek ransom payments from winners.
  • Cybercrime – Hackers infiltrate digital accounts of winners.

Maintaining anonymity helps reduce risks. Steps like claiming winnings through trusts or LLCs offer some protection. Yet caution is still needed. Louisville winner Mary Grice chose to stay anonymous in 1997 but was later shot in an attempted robbery at her home.

Examples of Lottery Crimes

Multiple lottery winners have become victims of crimes and scams:

  • Jack Whittaker lost $545,000 to scammers after his 2002 Powerball win.
  • Gerald Muswagon had his mansion burned down after his 1998 win.
  • Craigory Burch Jr. was murdered in 2016 by seven youths who knew he won $434,000.
  • Abraham Shakespeare was murdered in 2009 by a woman scheming to control his $30 million prize.

The fame accompanying lottery winnings attracts criminals. Winners must invest in security and vigilantly avoid scams to protect their wealth.

Winners Often Still Work

A common assumption is that lottery winners will immediately quit their jobs and retire rich. However, studies show the majority of winners keep working and maintain relatively normal lives after winning:

  • Over 80% of lottery winners continue working in some capacity after winning.
  • Only about one-third of winners under retirement age fully quit their jobs.
  • Many winners keep the same job but reduce hours or responsibilities.
  • Some winners start businesses or invest in companies to keep occupied.

Reasons winners continue working include:

  • Desire to remain productive and active
  • Dissatisfaction with an idle lifestyle
  • Work provides meaning and fulfillment
  • Keeping busy avoids excessive spending
  • Maintaining friendships and professional contacts

Given careful steps to manage winnings, many winners find quitting work entirely unnecessary and undesirable.

Examples of Working Lottery Winners

Notable lottery winners who kept working after winning millions:

  • Cynthia Stafford won $112 million in 2007 but still operates her event planning business.
  • Les Robins won $111 million in 1993 but continued running his photography studio for years.
  • Geraldine Williams won $26 million in 2016 but still works part-time at a nonprofit.
  • Chris Shaw won $30.5 million in 2015 but still works his old job at a flooring company.

Continuing some form of work helps winners find purpose and fulfillment beyond just spending lavishly. Idle retirement proves unappealing for many.

Winning Brings New Purpose

While collecting lottery fortunes no doubt brings great joy, winners often report a new sense of purpose and responsibility accompanying their wealth. With new resources to make an impact, many winners seek to give back and help others:

  • Over one-third of winners create charitable foundations to formalize their philanthropy.
  • Donating to charitable causes provides meaning by channeling winnings to good.
  • Funding scholarships helps winners support the next generation.
  • Sponsoring local community initiatives ties winnings to improving home areas.

Lottery winners gain the freedom to pursue causes aligning with their values and beliefs. Wealth enables acting on previously unachievable aspirations to advance social goods. The opportunity gives winners renewed spirit.

Famous Philanthropic Lottery Winners

Well-known lottery winners who dedicated winnings to charity and good causes:

  • Jackie Goring funded college scholarships after her $72 million win in 1993.
  • Les Robins gave over $50 million to charities working on education, health, arts.
  • Tom Crist started a foundation supporting disabled people with his $40 million prize.
  • Cynthia Stafford has funded programming promoting literacy and entrepreneurship.

Whether funding scholarships, donating to nonprofits, or supporting community services, many lottery winners obtain fulfillment from philanthropy.


Behind the stories of fabulous wealth and privilege lie more complex realities for lottery winners. Winning millions brings immense joy but also isolation, security concerns, and relationship tensions. Lottery fortunes prove challenging to manage and sustain. And winners must adapt to radically transformed lifestyles overnight.

Yet most winners continue finding purpose through work, philanthropy, and family connections. Their winnings enable pursuing new dreams and using wealth for good. With prudence and care, the lottery can unlock lifechanging opportunities. But happiness ultimately comes from within.