The dark side of the lottery

Winning the lottery is, to most people, an unrealistic dream. The prospect of suddenly acquiring life-changing wealth sounds too good to be true and everyone loves to fantasise about what they would spend their prize money on. Common answers include: buying multiple properties around the world, paying off debt, going on luxury holidays, buying a supercar or making generous charitable donations. However, few people will ever actually experience making such phenomenal decisions.

The odds of winning may be extremely low, but the sheer possibility attracts thousands of regular customers every week. In fact, Brits spend an average of £416 a year on lottery tickets and scratchcards and over 70% of over 18s in the UK regularly take part in the national lottery. The lottery is, ultimately, a gambling game that preys on people’s ambitious hope of winning. It therefore seems, on the surface, that doing so would be a miracle; providing an extraordinary, lavish lifestyle, however the harsh reality is that this ‘dream’ often turns into a nightmare.

Dubbed, the ‘lottery curse’, this is when someone, against all odds, wins the lottery but later wish that they had never even entered. The notion may sound absurd, but the truth is that winning instantly consumes every aspect of normal life as it will never be the same again.

All big lottery winners are highly likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years

When an ordinary person wins, they will experience a newfound sense of untouchability and freedom, known as ‘the honeymoon period’. This gives them a kind of ‘tunnel vision’, as it were, encouraging reckless spending habits and causing an enormous upheaval to their life. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the most common trait among winners is greediness. Overcome with joy, individuals usually splash their cash on luxurious material items to celebrate, quickly experiencing how ‘the other half live’. However, with so much credit available to them, and what seems like an infinite amount of money, many carelessly overspend. This is why, statistically, all big lottery winners are highly likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years, with some ending up even worse off than they were beforehand.

This was tragically shown in the example of William Post III, a man who won $16.2m from the Pensylvania lottery in 1988. Having recklessly spent his money on flashy items and parties, Post found himself over half a million dollars in debt within a year. He was forced to declare bankruptcy and his life was completely overturned by the lottery win: “Everyone dreams of winning money, but nobody realises the nightmares that come out of the woodwork.” After numerous failed marriages, he ultimately died alone and poor – a tragic victim of the ‘lottery curse’.

Another huge, and easily forgotten, change to the lives’ of winners is the status of their relationships. The extreme nature of suddenly becoming so affluent proves revealing of friends’ and family’s attitudes. Relationships are tested and pushed to their limits as jealousy is a recurrent feeling among peers. Winners frequently report how friends took advantage of them, suddenly becoming more interested in their assets than them as a person, with distant relatives sometimes resurfacing to demand their share of the earnings, as well as complete strangers begging for handouts.

The immense added pressure and stress that comes with possessing this unexpected wealth can also lead to serious mental health issues

Billy Bob Harrell Jr, who won $31m from the Texas Jackpot in 1997, explained how after he had shared some of his winnings with his family and local Church, the financial requests did not stop. People constantly demanded for more and this put deadly strains on his own relationships, eventually leading to his divorce and family fall-out. Tragically, he took his life less than two years after his win, having previously claimed: “winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

The immense added pressure and stress that comes with possessing this unexpected wealth can also lead to serious mental health issues. Depression and suicide, alongside dangerous drinking habits and drug addictions, are common symptoms and this is worsened by limited support and understanding from others. Peers often struggle to sympathise with their circumstances as, having had had such surreal ‘luck’ and ‘fortune’, it is easy to be dismissive of any hardships faced, subsequently exacerbating feelings of loneliness and isolation for winners.

In 2003, Callie Rogers became the youngest ever Lotto winner in the UK, winning £1.8m aged 16. Having blown it all on partying, designer clothes, cosmetic treatment and loans to ‘friends’, Rogers explained how she went from a carefree child to an adult overnight. Years later, her uncomfortable past still haunts her: “I suffer from such bad anxiety when I am going to meet new people. Even when I go for job interviews, I am thinking about it… it preys on my mind, what a new partner’s family will think of me, or even new friends. I still get abuse just because of who I am.”

Rogers suffered from so much guilt and emotional harm that she battled depression for years and tried to take her life. She said: “I did not want that much money… not knowing who liked me for me, and having all the stress, I just wanted to go back to having a normal life. I had a lot of fake relationships and was exploited because of my age. I still struggle with trust issues.” Rogers now campaigns to try and increase the age limit of entering the lottery to 18.

The lottery is nothing more than a hopelessly dead-end, destructive game

Even if publicity is denied, winning increases the risk of danger altogether as rumours circulate and unwanted attention will still be received. Being a lottery winner instantly places you at a greater risk of crimes such as kidnapping, murder and theft and previous winners, like Jeffrey Dampier Jr, have been murdered for their money by their own relatives. Post also narrowly escaped death when his brother hired a hitman to kill him for inheritance.

Nevertheless, whilst all these stories are true, it is important to recognise how the media tends to focus on the most tragic, ‘riches-to-rags’ cases and subsequently blows them out of proportion. In reality, not every winner has their life ruined for the worse by the lottery as some have managed their money responsibly and used it to enjoy an easier, financially secure life, or to selflessly support great charitable causes.

However, the overall fact remains that buying a ticket is nothing more than a lose-lose situation. The lottery is not truly a ‘gamble’ but a scam, with the chances of winning being so inconceivably slim. Buying a ticket with the expectation to earn a fortune is ludicrous and even winning itself poses enormous challenges. If you want to invest your money wisely, I would urge you to avoid the lottery at all costs and instead put your savings to good use on a safer, more sustainable option as the lottery is nothing more than a hopelessly dead-end, destructive game.

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