20 lottery winners who lost every penny
Even if it does pan out, winning the lottery will not solve all of life’s problems. Many people’s lives became notably worse after they hit the jackpot.
- The Mega Millions jackpot has reached a record high $868 million after nobody won on Tuesday.
- While it may be tempting, buying a lottery ticket is almost certainly not worth it.
- History has shown us countless examples of lottery winners whose lives took a turn for the worse after hitting the jackpot.
The Mega Millions jackpot reached a record-high $868 million after nobody won Tuesday’s drawing.
The announcement gives hope to lottery players across the country who dream of striking it rich with a few lucky numbers.
While buying a ticket may seem tempting, the numbers suggest that it almost certainly isn’t worth it.
But even if it does pan out, winning the lottery will not solve all of life’s problems.
In fact, many people’s lives became notably worse after they hit the jackpot, as you can see from the following cautionary tales.
Lara and Roger Griffiths bought their dream home … and then life fell apart.
Before they won a $2.76 million lottery jackpot in 2005, Lara and Roger Griffiths, of England, hardly ever argued.
Then they won and bought a million-dollar barn-converted house and a Porsche, not to mention luxurious trips to Dubai, Monaco, and New York City.
Their fortune ended in 2010 when a freak fire gutted their house, which was underinsured, forcing them to shell out for repairs and seven months of temporary accommodations.
Shortly after, Roger drove away in the Porsche after Lara confronted him over emails suggesting that he was interested in another woman. That ended their 14-year marriage.
Bud Post lost $16.2 million within a nightmarish year — his own brother put out a hit on him.
William “Bud” Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988, but he was $1 million in debt within a year.
“I wish it never happened,” Post said. “It was totally a nightmare.”
A former girlfriend successfully sued him for a third of his winnings, and his brother was arrested for hiring a hit man to kill him in the hopes he’d inherit a share of the winnings.
After sinking money into family businesses, Post sank into debt and spent time in jail for firing a gun over the head of a bill collector.
“I was much happier when I was broke,” he said, according to The Washington Post.
Bud lived quietly on $450 a month and food stamps until his death in 2006.
Martyn and Kay Tott won a $5 million jackpot, but lost the ticket.
Martyn Tott, 33, and his 24-year-old wife, from the UK, missed out on a $5 million lottery fortune after losing their ticket.
A seven-week investigation by Camelot Group, the company that runs the UK’s national lottery, convinced officials their claim to the winning ticket was legitimate. But since there is a 30-day time limit on reporting lost tickets, the company was not required to pay up, and the jackpot became the largest unclaimed amount since the lottery began in 1994.
“Thinking you’re going to have all that money is really liberating. Having it taken away has the opposite effect,” Kay Tott told The Daily Mail. “It drains the life from you and puts a terrible strain on your marriage. It was the cruelest torture imaginable.”
Sharon Tirabassi is back in the working class after winning $10 million 11 years ago.
In 2004, Sharon Tirabassi, a single mother who had been on welfare, cashed a check from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. for more than $10 million Canadian dollars.
She spent her winnings on a “big house, fancy cars, designer clothes, lavish parties, exotic trips, handouts to family, loans to friends,” and in less than a decade she was back “riding the bus, working part-time, and living in a rented house.”
“All of that other stuff was fun in the beginning, now it’s like, back to life,” she told The Hamilton Spectator.
Luckily, Tirabassi put some of her windfall in trusts for her six children, who can claim the money when they turn 26.
Evelyn Adams gambled it all away in Atlantic City.
Against all odds, in the mid-1980s, Adams won the lottery twice, once in 1985 and again in 1986.
The New Jersey native won $5.4 million, but AskMen.com reports that she gambled it away in Atlantic City.
Adams also told The New York Times in 1993 that the publicity she received led to a bombardment of requests for financial assistance.
“I was known,” she said, “and I couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized.”
Tonda Lynn Dickerson was forced to pay gift tax.
Tonda Lynn Dickerson, a former Waffle House waitress, got served a big plate of karma when she refused to split her winnings with colleagues and was forced to pay the taxman $1,119,347.90.
How did it happen? Dickerson placed her winnings in a corporation and granted her family 51% of the stock, qualifying her for the tax.
Gerald Muswagon ended up feeling sorry for partying.
In 1998, Gerald Muswagon won the $10 million Super 7 jackpot in Canada.
But he couldn’t handle the instant fame that came with winning the grand prize, according to Canada’s Globe and Mail.
“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,” The Globe and Mail reported. “In a single day, he bought eight big-screen televisions for friends.”
Muswagon also poured money into a logging business that failed because of low sales.
He was eventually forced to take a job doing heavy lifting on a friend’s farm just to make ends meet, according to The Globe and Mail. Filled with remorse, Muswagon hanged himself in his parents’ garage in 2005.
Suzanne Mullins couldn’t dig herself out of debt.
Suzanne Mullins won $4.2 million in the Virginia lotto in 1993.
She split the yearly payments three ways with her husband and daughter, leaving Mullins with about $47,000 a year. She quickly found herself in debt — her lawyer said she shelled out $1 million for her uninsured son-in-law’s medical bills.
“It’s been a hard road,” Mullins’s lawyer Michael Hart told the Associated Press in 2004. “It’s not been jet plane trips to the Bahamas.”
She used future payouts to take out a $200,000 loan with a company that served a specific market — lottery winners who need their money faster.
Mullins later switched to a lump-sum payout, but never paid back the debt. The loan company filed suit and won a $154,000 settlement that was all but worthless. Mullins had no assets.
Americo Lopes quit his job, lied about winning, and then got sued.
Construction worker Americo Lopes won the New Jersey lottery, quit his job, and lied about it, claiming that he needed foot surgery, reports The New York Times.
After coming clean to a former coworker, he and a few others ganged up on Lopes for not splitting the winnings as promised. In a fraud suit, the coworkers claimed they had all pitched in for the winning ticket.
The court ordered Lopes to split the prize.
Ibi Roncaioli was murdered by her husband after she squandered her winnings.
Ontario resident Ibi Roncaioli walked away with $5 million in a 1991 Lotto/649 drawing, but she didn’t tell her husband how she decided to spend it.
When Joseph Roncaioli, a gynecologist, found out Ibi gave $2 million of her fortune to a secret child she’d had with another man, he poisoned her with painkillers, the Toronto Star reports.
He was found guilty of manslaughter and reportedly asked Ibi’s family to help foot the bill for her funeral.
Michael Carroll lived in the fast lane and blew it all.
Michael Carroll was just 19 when he won Britain’s £9.7 million— $15 million — jackpot in 2002, the Daily Mail reports.
But a penchant for crack, parties, prostitutes, and cars put him back at square one in five years.
Last we heard, the former garbageman was hoping to get his old job back.
Andrew Jackson Whittaker Jr. was undone by robberies and a casino lawsuit.
In 2002, West Virginia building contractor Andrew Jackson Whittaker Jr. walked away with $114 million, after taxes, on a $315 million multistate Powerball draw.
That was just about his last stroke of good fortune.
Thieves ran off with $545,000 that Whittaker had stashed in his car in 2003. And he lost $200,000 the same way a year later. He was also sued by Caesar’s Atlantic City, which said Whittaker had bounced $1.5 million in checks.
Within four years, his fortune was gone.
Billy Bob Harrell Jr. had his prayers answered, but his luck ran out after he couldn’t say no.
A Pentecostal preacher working as a stock boy at Home Depot got his prayers answered when he hit the $31 million Texas jackpot in 1997.
At first life was good, with Billy Bob quitting his job, traveling to Hawaii, and buying a ranch, six other homes, and new cars. He donated 480 turkeys to the poor, according to Time.
But like many others who win the lottery, he just couldn’t say no when people asked for a handout. He also ran into financial trouble with a company that gave lottery winners lump sums in exchange for their annual checks, but it left him with far less than what he’d won.
Later he divorced and committed suicide. Shortly before his death, he told a financial adviser that “winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Willie Hurt’s crack addiction did him in.
In 1989, Willie won a $3.1 million jackpot in the Michigan Lottery.
Two years later, Hurt was divorced, lost custody of his children, and was charged with attempted murder — and picked up a crack-cocaine addiction.
The habit sucked away his entire fortune.
Denise Rossi didn’t disclose the jackpot in her divorce filing.
When Denise Rossi won $1.3 million in the California lotto, she kept the news to herself and abruptly demanded a divorce from her husband Thomas without a word, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Thomas was shocked but agreed to divorce her anyway. During the proceedings, Denise continued to keep her good fortune a secret.
Two years later, Thomas intercepted a letter at his new Los Angeles home revealing the truth.
He sued Denise for not disclosing her winnings in the divorce, and the judge awarded Thomas every cent.
Even Denise’s lawyer admitted to People that Denise could have kept half her winnings if she had been honest with her then husband. “Her failure to disclose was a fraud,” the lawyer said.
Meanwhile, Thomas Rossi is enjoying his $48,000-a-year payouts.
“If it wasn’t for the lotto, Denise and I would probably still be together. Things worked out for the best,” he said.
Janite Lee spent it all on charity and political donations.
After winning an $18 million lottery jackpot in 1993, Janite Lee saw her winnings gone within a decade.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Lee, a wigmaker from South Korea, blew it on charity.
A reading room was named after her at Washington University’s law school, and she was a major donor for the Democratic Party.
But her giving hand, coupled with a little gambling and a lot of credit-card debt, reportedly did her in. She filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Luke Pittard wound up flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
Welsh-born Luke Pittard won a £1.3 million jackpot — $1.9 million — in 2006, but spent almost all of it on a trip to the Canary Islands, a wedding, and a house.
A year and a half later, Pittard was forced to return to his job at McDonald’s.
“They all think I’m a bit mad but I tell them there’s more to life than money,” Pittard told the Telegraph in 2008. “I loved working at McDonald’s before I became a millionaire and I’m really enjoying being back there again.”
Rhoda and Alex Toth both landed in court for tax evasion.
Alex and Rhoda Toth hit the $13 million jackpot in Florida in 1990. Within 15 years, they were destitute.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the couple spent heavily on a three-month trip to Las Vegas, which included stays in a $1,000-a-night penthouse suite at the Mirage. Back home, they bought 10 acres of land.
The two were eventually accused of tax evasion by the IRS after it was discovered they filed for bankruptcy protections and falsely reported gambling losses. At the time of their indictment they were said to owe the IRS $2.5 million.
Alex died before his case went to trial; Rhoda served two years in prison.
Vivian Nicholson was a clotheshorse who couldn’t stop shopping.
Daily Mail UK reports that Vivian Nicholson got a taste of the good life when her husband Keith won a fortune — £152,300 — in Britain’s football pools in 1961.
She famously promised the media she would “spend, spend, spend” following the windfall — and she kept her word.
The couple blew much of Keith’s winnings on haute couture, sports cars, and a new home, their extravagant lifestyle becoming the stuff of headlines. When Keith died in 1965, Vivian was hit with a huge tax bill and declared bankruptcy.
She struggled with alcohol and depression before her death in 2011 — two years after a West End musical celebrated her life in the play “Spend, Spend, Spend.”
Teen mom Callie Rogers was too young to spend her money wisely.
Callie Rogers was just 16 when she won £1.9 million — about $3 million — in the UK’s lottery in 2003, and she was too young to know how to manage her money or where it would lead her, according to Gawker.
After briefly vowing to manage her winnings responsibly, Rogers made quick work of her fortune. She reportedly spent millions on vacations, clothing, cars, breast implants, and according to British tabloid The Sun, more than $300,000 on cocaine.
She also reportedly spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on a bungalow and house for her mother.
Now a 29-year-old mother of three, Rogers is teaching her children to be careful with money.
“I’m glad they’ll grow up knowing the value of money,” she told The Sun in February.
“I was too young to win the lottery. It nearly broke me, but thankfully, I’m now stronger than ever.”
This is an updated version of an article including reporting from Pamela Engel, Mandi Woodruff, and Michael B. Kelley.