State Lotteries

I don’t want to start a “Gambling Good! / Gambling Bad!,” debate, but I would like to ask about state lotteries.

I’ve heard from many sources that most of the people who win the lottery say that it ruined their lives. I’ve always assumed that the people who reported this had an axe to grind (anti-lottery activists, etc.), but now I’m not so sure.

How can sudden wealth ruin someone’s life? I’ve been poor before, and I can tell you confidently that it sucks dirt. So what gives?

I have some theories:

  1. The Termite Theory: When X person wins the lottery, all of these long-lost relatives come out of the woodwork, demanding a piece of the pie, and thus families fall apart.

  2. The War of the Roses Theory: Married couples differ over how to spend/invest the money and the marriage falls apart.

  3. The Molly Brown Theory: A person finds sudden wealth and thinks they’ll be accepted by the Upper Crust, but then get the cold shoulder and take it personally.

  4. The Prodigal Son Theory: They squander the money on yachts, caviar, and the general Good Life and wind up just as broke as they were to begin with.

I’d like to hear some other theories. Also, any Dopers who have come into sudden wealth? How did you handle it? Did it ruin your life?

Thank you.

I would bet it’s the fourth one above. Seems to apply to a lot of entertainers and athletes whose careers make them rich quickly, but don’t last long.

My impression is that the majority of lottery winners are not expert money managers, take the windfall as grounds to adopt a spendthrift lifestyle, go through it, and end up little better off (and sometimes worse off) than before they won.

The questions of whether

  1. State lotteries actually produce the touted results (more money for education without increasing taxes, for example), and
  2. State lotteries are an encouragement to addictive gamblers to pursue their addiction to their and their families’ detriment
    are also worth exploring.

I think all of your scenarios are plausible, but there’s also another one that I’ve heard in connection with lottery wins. People expect the money to solve all their problems, but of course it can’t. When the first excitement of the win wears off and it’s time to get back to normal life, they can get depressed.

And the other explanation, which is that many, many more people win the lottery and have their lives improved greatly, but that’s not very newsworthy. So the only reports you hear are about the ones that screw up.

There was recently a story in the news about a woman in California who suddenly told her husband of several decades she wanted a divorce. According to him, it came out of nowhere. And she wanted it now.

Turns out that a week before, she and some friends had split a $6 million jackpot, giving her $1.3 million, and she hadn’t told him. She was having the checks sent to her mother’s in Vermont.

When he found out, he took her to court. The judge ruled she had violated California’s asset disclosure laws related to divorce, and gave the entire lottery award to the ex-husband. If she had simply told him, she would have kept half. Pretty funny.

“Come on, Phonics Monkey–drum!”

I would think another problem with winning the lottery is that you might lose a lot of friends.

i.e. Suppose I win several million dollars. Before that I was John Smith working as a lowly office employee. I had planned to go on vacation with my friends to Mexico, driving because it was cheaper than flying, and staying in an inexpensive hotel far from the beach.

What does John Smith do? Buy a plane ticket and register in a more expensive hotel, to avoid the tedium of the drive and be on the beach? If so, am I morally obligated to upgrade my friends also?

Once a week, with my friends we go out to dinner. Now do I, John Smith, want to go out at Al’s cheap-o diner, or do I want to go to the Four Seasons for a fine dinner? If I order wine, do I want the cheap house wine or do I order the $50 bottle?

We go to the ball game. My friends want to sit on the second level. Does John Smith go sit in the back, or does he buy the prime tickets behind the batter?

etc… Depending on how you handle your fortune, you may end up associating with a different class of people and losing all your old friends.

La franchise ne consiste pas à dire tout ce que l’on pense, mais à penser tout ce que l’on dit.
H. de Livry

Don’t forget you have to pay taxes on the win - that’s enough of a headache right there.

All of the reasons given in the OP apply, plus consider that you (as the new winner) are now fresh bait for every scam artist or crackpot inventor who can find you, all sorts of investment advisors and “money people” (every one of them offering the Best Way and badmouthing the others until you only know that you’re a small animal lost in a big, scary world), every charity in the state - and many are more than happy to tell you terrible stories of others’ suffering for as long as you will listen - plus some national ones as well, churches, wackos going under the guise of religion, etc., etc.

The annoyances will only end when you learn to secure your privacy and say “NO!,” and if you say no to the charities…then what kind of selfish bastard are you, anyway?!

Finally, I imagine there might be such a beast as Winners Guilt, similar to Survivor’s Guilt, that would affect some people.

Y’know, I also think that there’s value in putting off getting things or doing things that you want, saving for them, and savoring the anticipation. If you can have everything you want (in the way of possessions and travel, that sort of thing), then what do you have to look forward to, or to work for? Where’s the thrill for your teenage son in shopping around to find a car he can afford, maybe learning how to fix it up and proudly showing it off, if you can take him out and pick a new one up off the lot? Or in finally making the last house payment?

Eldest Son wants to go to Belize next summer with a group from his school. It’ll cost him $1400. I’ve told him that if he earns half, I’ll match it. He’s learning to plan, to save, to budget, to do extra chores around the house to save money. He’s making everybody’s Christmas presents in ceramics class in high school – showed me one of 'em the other day – very cool. That trip will mean a lot more to him than if I simply signed a check for the full amount, and on top of it we’ll have some very personalized Christmas presents.

I really do think that there’s such a thing as “too much money.” (OTOH, I’ve never experienced it!) Too much of a good thing gets taken for granted.

Just my two cents.



I’m going to have to disagree with you there, Melin. Getting whatever you want is subjective, and so is having too much money.

I’m sure that compared to 90% of the people in the world, and probably at least 60% of the population of the USA, you appear wealthy.

It’s just that most people look at the people that are richer than they are, and that’s what they want.

When you win a million dollars in the lottery, after the novelty wears off, you look at your neighbour with the 3 million dollar house and think “I wish I had that.” That’s why most lottery ticket winners keep on buying more lottery tickets.

La franchise ne consiste pas à dire tout ce que l’on pense, mais à penser tout ce que l’on dit.
H. de Livry

Probably different people are affected by one or more of your original ideas.

Who is most likely to play the lottery regularly? Sure middle class people play it occasionally or a few bucks regularly, but who plays a lot? Also, the rich would likely never play. Those who do play a lot are not likely good with finances.

If you win the $1 Million jackpot, if you take it yearly, you get ~30K per year for 30 years. Not enough to quit your job over, but lots of people will likely hit you up for money, after all you are now a millionare. If you take it all at once, you will get less than 500K and then after taxes you will have about 250K or so. Aquaintances will likely not understand that you do not have loads of money lying around.

Losing friends and alienating family members is also likely. Who among us does not have a deadbeat family member? Now if that person asks for a little loan and we give it to them, they will hound us forever. If we refuse, the family will shun us for being selfish. After all we have all that money, surely we could help out our cousin.

I am against the lottery, because I think it preys on the poor. I do not play it because I understand math.


max weber the great economist led the implication that modern obsession with money could be a misplaced religeous request (i stole this from needlemans ‘money and the meaning of life’; as well as the following).

Also, you have a problem, money allows you to fix it with out properly exploring the reason for the problem. It takes away the ability to objectively examine yourself.

this is my input: every person you ever met from that point on, you would question whether they liked you for your money or yourself. you’d never know.

We live in an age that reads to much to be wise, and thinks too much to be beautiful–Oscar Wilde

whoops, quest not request

We live in an age that reads to much to be wise, and thinks too much to be beautiful–Oscar Wilde

Problems due to “excess” money–bah!

I can say, without any reservations whatsoever, that I have no problems that wouldn’t be solved by winning the lottery. I have all the friends I need, only a few relations I’d give a rat’s ass about, and an unbounded imagination. After tucking enough away for my son’s education, I’d have the time of my life for however long it lasted.

Oh yeah, those people that keep on working after they win the lottery…well, all I can say is that they must either absolutely love their jobs, or they must be totally lacking in creative thinking capability.

Insofar as the Prodigal Son Theory might apply to me…I couldn’t be poorer even if I squandered every last penny of the winnings, because I’d still have the memories (and the photos, and the videotapes).

Yeah, lotteries draw a greater percentage of their proceeds from the less affluent, but I can only quote Robert Heinlein: The only game in town might be rigged, but if you don’t play, you can never win.

What price dreams?

Lotteries are a tax on people who can’t do math.

Buying lottery tickets can be a completely rational decision, even if it’s a negative expectation bet. Utility Theory explains why it may be in someone’s rational interest to purchase lottery tickets.

All of the above are why I never tell when I win the lottery.

All I can say is that if I win the lottery, I promise not to whine that it ruined my life.

Now show me the money!

I remember reading or hearing recently (sorry, I don’t know where) that 60% of all lottery winners end up declaring bankruptcy. This refers to large jackpot winners, not lower amounts of money.

It amazes me when I am in poor areas, the convenience stores always do a booming business in lottery tickets. These are the people who can least afford it. But I’m sure we’ve all seen people drop 500 dollars at a time. Even people on various government programs.

I confess, I will spend about five dollars when I hear the jackpot is huge. I probably spend about 30 dollars a year. Will I win?
No, but the five minutes I spend dreaming after buying tickets is worth it to me.

If I feel this way, can you imagine how the heavy spenders must be? It’s an addiction, plain and simple. And the people who have it are usually the ones who can afford it the least.