It can’t buy happiness

Some people say that there’s a “curse” on players featured on the box of Madden NFL. This Snopes article does a good job of reconstructing it. Others have said that there is a Megabucks curse, or a curse on lottery winners. I think it makes sense to compare the two. BTW, Snopes has an article that debunks the Megabucks myth, and several other gambling-related articles that are a welcome friend in my continuing mission to bring a modicum of sense to the public discussion of gambling. Given the bad luck of some lottery winners (more on that below), is there a Powerball curse? I’m going to argue, in the same vein as the good people at Snopes, that there is no such thing. First, let’s consider the sports-related “cover’ curses: From Snopes:

Players are generally selected for honors when they’re at the pinnacles of their careers — when continued excellence has become the expected norm, and when anything less is considered disappointing. There’s nowhere to go from such lofty heights but down: Every player is subject to injury (especially in a contact sport such as football), all athletes eventually experience the decline of their skills with age (if injuries don’t prematurely end their careers first), and even top performers in are not immune to having off-years or making occasional blunders in crucial game situations. “Bad luck” happens to just about everyone sooner or later, but we only take especial note of it when it seems to fit a pattern.
(emphasis mine)

This is true, even to a greater extent, for newly-rich lottery players. Lottery winners aren’t athletes who’ve been training for years–they’re just regular people who woke up millionaires one day. So it’s reasonable to assume that they’re going to have their fair share of bad breaks, too. Even worse, with so much money (that is often so well-publicized), they become targets for various thieves, con artists, and opportunists. Case in point, from Newsday:

A man beset by problems since winning a record lottery jackpot says he can’t pay a settlement to a casino worker because thieves cleaned out his bank accounts.

Powerball winner Jack Whittaker gave that explanation in a note last fall to a lawyer for Kitti French, who accused him of assaulting her at the Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center, a slots-only casino near Charleston, according to a motion French’s lawyer filed this week demanding payment of the confidential settlement.

Whittaker won a nearly $315 million on Christmas 2002, then the largest undivided lottery prize in U.S. history. He took his winnings in a lump sum of $113 million after taxes.

Since then, he has faced his granddaughter’s death by drug overdose; he has been sued for bouncing checks at Atlantic City, N.J., casinos; he has been ordered to undergo rehab after being arrested on drunken driving charges; his vehicles and business have been burglarized; and he has been sued by the father of an 18-year-old boy, a friend of his granddaughter’s, who was found dead in Whittaker’s house.

In the latest lawsuit, Whittaker told French’s lawyer, John Barrett, that “a team of crooks” cashed checks in September at 12 City National Bank branches and “got all my money,” according to the motion Barrett filed Wednesday in state court.

Powerball Winner: Thieves Cleaned Me Out –

If you are lucky enough to win a big jackpot, I’d suggest keeping your name out of the papers, staying off TV, and not telling anyone–anyone at all–that you won. I imagine that Whittaker would give just about anything not to have won that $113 million, so be careful what you wish for.

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