Beware The Lottery Curse If You Win

by Claire Elizabeth Felter

With a $1.5 billion jackpot on the line, Americans from coast to coast are likely dreaming up hypothetical post-lottery lives, steeped in luxury and drained of any semblance of reality. But what actually happens to Powerball winners? It turns out that the lottery curse may have some truth to it, but it's not a given.

If you are a lover of the ABC show Lost, the words "curse" and "lottery" together can bring to mind only one name: Hurley. (Well, two names, actually — Hurley and Hugo — but they both refer to the same fictional human.) The cursed numbers that he used for his winning lottery ticket would haunt him for years, leading to more deaths and unfortunate incidents than many viewers could keep track of. While most Powerball winners past haven't experienced the dramatic sequence of events audiences saw poor Hurley go through, life may not have gone as hoped after they cashed in the winning numbers.

Financial consultant to lotto winners (because it turns out that's a real job) Don McNay said that "it's just upheaval that they're not ready for." The National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that about 70 percent of people who suddenly come into a large sum of cash lose it within several years. Going broke, filing for divorce, and facing estranged relationships aren't uncommon. A number of winners have also been killed after taking home a hefty jackpot.

While some winners have gone on to provide support for the theory of the dreaded lottery curse, others appeared to fare better, or even do some pretty generous deeds with the money. 2010 Powerball winner Jeffrey Pintuff did see misfortune in the months after claiming the jackpot. His wife Christine died less than a year after the couple won the $48.8 million. He later memorialized his wife's work by making a $250,000 donation toward a new ICU at Saratoga Hospital, where she worked as a nurse.

Army veteran Cole Barker of Springfield, OH, who claimed a $2 million prize in 2011, gave some of his winnings to the Wounded Warrior Project, among other charities focused on supporting veterans. There were some tricks to avoiding the curse, according to Barker, like hiring an attorney and setting up a blind trust in order to keep his name out of the spotlight.

And concerning the current $1.5 Powerball jackpot, Barker had pretty much the best silver lining ever for anyone thinking about their future plans with the winnings. "The cash payout is over $800 million, and after Uncle Sam, I think it drops down to about $450 million," Barker said. "But even $400 million. Could you imagine how many people you could help?”