The Not-So-Big Winner: The Unfortunate Ways Winning the Lottery Does More Harm Than Good

Friends lottery tickets episode
The group from Friends was probably better off not winning. | NBC

“Let’s play the odds — what is there to lose?” you say as you fork over two bucks for a chance at a hundred million dollars. The answer? A whole lot.
What many see as a low-risk investment, others find a complete waste of time and money. Winning the lottery seems like the long-awaited answer to your prayers — and a solution to your crippling debt — but the grass is always green over there in millionaire land.
Those lucky enough to hit the jackpot are faced with a mound of problems most average Americans wish to avoid. From heightened depression to scams to murder, here are 15 ways winning the lottery could do more harm than good.

1. A greater chance of bankruptcy for you — and your neighbors

Many lottery winners never would believe bankruptcy is in their immediately futures as they’re waving their oversized check through the air for all to see. But about 70% of people who win a lottery end up broke shortly thereafter, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education.
Even if you manage to keep yourself from harm, there’s no guarantee for your neighbors. A 2016 study found those living next to lottery winners are significantly more likely to declare bankruptcy due to a ripple effect. A winner’s lifestyle upgrades might tempt neighbors into spending in the same frivolous manner, regardless of their means to do so.
Next: You don’t actually take home anywhere near the advertised payout.

2. Taxes rob you of most of your winnings

Sad man looking at his wallet
The government takes a large chunk. |

The amount of money you’re forced to give back to Uncle Sam can really take the wind from your sails. Time ran the numbers on a recent Powerball jackpot of $700 million. A single winner will receive the $700 million check in its entirety only if they choose an annuity paid out over 29 years. Choosing to receive the lump sum will gross $443 million.
The federal government will then take about a 25% cut of the winnings. And don’t forget about state taxes. New York, for example, steals about 8.82% of your money.
Next: Remember your friends from high school? They’re back.

3. The greedy friends who casually resurface

young friends forming huddle
Some “friends” will be quick to come out of the woodwork. |

Many lottery winners report unwarranted pressure to support others after they win new money. Suddenly friends and family are calling to reminisce about the good old days, hoping you’ll kindly supply them with a cool million or two. For a newly rich person, those demands could weigh heavily on your mind.
Billie Bob Harrell Jr. won $31 million in a Texas lottery and received $1.24 million in annual payments. He then proceeded to buy cars and houses for family and friends while making massive donations to the local church. When strangers began calling his home requesting money, he changed his phone number. And within 20 months of winning, he committed suicide. He reportedly told his financial adviser that “winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Next: Taxes aren’t the only way you’ll be robbed of your earnings.

4. You’re more likely to be robbed

Man in hoodie breaking into car
Winners are often made public. | Bradbury

Only six states will recognize your wishes to remain anonymous after winning the lottery. Unfortunately, such a public display of excitement could spell disaster for first-time winners. There’s a long history of crime associated with newfound wealth.
For Jack Whittaker, he was the victim of several major robberies after winning $315 million in the West Virginia lottery. Thieves stole $545,000 and $200,000 from his car on two separate instances. Later, his home was destroyed in a fire, and his daughter was killed in a questionable incident related to the family money.
Next: Other lotto winners face a worse fate, and it’s not entirely uncommon.

 5. It might end in murder

Man pointing gun
A disturbing number of winners end up murdered. | Bradbury

While many lotto winners successfully escape danger, there is a disturbingly high number of those whose luck ran dry sooner than expected. Abraham Shakespeare was murdered by a friend who offered to help manage his new assets and protect him from the circling family and friends in need of quick cash. After persuading him to transfer his money to her accounts she stole the earnings and killed him.
Even more disturbing were the mysterious events that took place after Urooj Khan won a $1 million lotto prize in Chicago. Merely a day after winning the money, he was found dead in what the medical examiner ruled a homicide by cyanide.
Next: Investors are after your money, too.

6. You must ward off shady investment opportunities

Business investment and growth
You might get some bad investment opportunities. |

Most think they’d approach wealth with a sensible head. However, that’s easier said than done. Once you win the lottery, you become inundated with offers to open a restaurant, invest in the next great inflatable raft venture, or buy a car dealership — none of which pan out for the best.
When people come into money, it’s hard to find trusted advisers to guide them through decisions. And it’s often up to the individual to make the choice, for better or worse. For example, Michael Vick, who was thrown into wealth as one highest paid NFL athletes, came under fire for the inability to repay more than $6 million in loans used to finance a car rental business, a wine enterprise, and other ventures after they failed miserably.
Next: You’re a target for high-profile scams.

7. You become a target for scams and lawsuits

lower back
They might try to blame you for that back pain. |

Lottery winners are often targets for bogus lawsuits and other scams from shady schemers looking to stake their claim on your fortune. Winners find themselves in seemingly “random” car accidents or incidents of people who suddenly “slip and fall” on their property. Unfortunately, the hassle of winning the lottery increases your chances of less-than-honest encounters from contractors, babysitters, trusted co-workers, and so on.
After winning a lottery in Missouri, Sandra Hayes experienced this firsthand. “Some people I dealt with were honest, but others were not. I experienced contractors changing their work bids to a higher price after they found out I won the lottery,” she tells “Now I will only work with people who have been referred from trusted associates, friends or family.”
Next: Who will manage such a large sum of cash?

8. You must figure out how to manage it, or find someone who will

woman in interview
You’ll need someone to help you. |

Like athletes who land huge contracts, sudden lottery winners are forced to manage a huge chunk of change. If you were once someone living paycheck to paycheck, the added pressure to find someone to trust can become too much. And with so many people emerging from woodwork, you’ll need a respectable team of advisers and managers in place to protect your assets.
Next: The burden continues when you die.

9. The inheritance factor

Living Will
Working on your will becomes more complicated. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

There is another annoying loophole lottery winners and their families must consider. Your heirs must pay estate taxes on the money that’s still coming in when you die. This could cause undue hardship on the family who might not be able to afford such large payments. If your state allows it, you can convert your annuity into a lump-sum payout to help fund your newly acquired tax bill.
Next: See how much you’ve wasted just by playing the odds each week.

10. You waste countless dollars on terrible odds

lottery tickets
Your odds aren’t great. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

It’s time for the harsh truth. The odds of winning a recent Powerball jackpot were 1 in 290 million. This means you were more likely to be killed by a vending machine (1 in 112 million), have identical quadruplets (1 in 15 million), and become a movie star (1 in 1.5 million).
Nevertheless, the average American spends $325 a year on lottery tickets. With so many unfortunate circumstances accompanying this kind of win, is it worth wasting hundreds of dollars on a frivolous game?
Next: Money doesn’t buy happiness.

11. You actually don’t need that much money to be happy

woman hand putting coin into piggy bank
The optimal income for happiness is only $75,000, economists say. |

The lottery payout is often viewed as the answer to our prayers, thinking if we could just be a few million dollars richer, we’d be happier. But that’s not actually the case. The adage that money buys happiness is only true up to a certain amount, at which point, anything beyond is simply meaningless.
The magic number for happiness? $75,000 annually, according to economists at Princeton. Winning the lottery is not the fix Americans hope it will be. In fact, it negatively affects your relationships and mood, as we’ll see next.
Next: The dark side of winning

12. It leads to depression

worried young man sits on the edge of a bed
The money can cause its own set of marital problems. |

Divorce seems to follow closely behind winning the lottery in many cases, as there are countless examples of spouses who have divorced, separated, or confessed to cheating after claiming their prizes. Fancy cars, big houses, and expensive toys are merely examples of temporary highs most lotto winners feel after inheriting such wealth. Once the shine wears off, rich people are known to experience higher levels of depression and unhappiness no amount of money can console.
Next: Larger prizes hurt more.

13. A larger prize is more dangerous for your health

Man in suit with falling money
Smaller payouts are better than large ones for mental health. | Dean Drobot/Getty Images

If you missed the big payout yet again, you might want to thank your lucky stars before going on a bitter tirade about the “system.” A European Money and Mental Wellbeing study found evidence that those who received medium-sized lottery wins (up to approximately $200,000) exhibited better psychological health than those with bigger payouts. The study analyzed individuals’ mental health two years after winning and determined average winners saw the greatest success and stability in their new lifestyle.
Next: What good is a life with no one to share it with?

14. You lose friends

bored sad woman in front of computer
Your relationships might suffer. |

Sure, winning the lottery will prompt many long-lost friends to resurface, but the quality of your friendships will decrease. Those who were once loyal confidants might perceive you as undeserving and punish you as a result. No amount of money will suppress the feelings of loneliness and isolation that come when friends and family desert you out of jealousy.
Next: All sense of reality is gone.

15. Winning encourages reckless spending

Young happy fashion women
More money; more problems. |

There’s no shortage of lottery winners who squandered it all on fancy cars, big houses, shopping sprees, and international getaways. Many winners find themselves struggling to get by — such as the man who’s back to working at McDonald’s or the woman who gambled it all away in Atlantic City. This proves The Notorious B.I.G. was right: More money; more problems.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.