Out Of Luck: Lottery Winners Who Have Gone Bankrupt


Nearly one-third of U.S. lottery winners declare bankruptcy, often within just a few years of their big win, according to a study by Wolf Street. After sizable tax obligations, lavish spending decisions and prior monetary commitments to friends, family, or the clerk at the liquor store, winning the lotto is often more of a curse than a blessing.

After a South Carolina winner bought a winning ticket for last Tuesday's $1.5-billion Mega Millions jackpot, here's a look at some of the people who wound up worse off than they were before after hitting it big, according to Bankrate data:

  • William Post III, $16.2 million. Just three months after winning the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988, Post experienced crime, bankruptcy and poor spending decisions, such as the purchase of a restaurant and an airplane. Post was $500,000 in debt and filed for bankruptcy in the early 1990s, according to Bankrate. 
  • Evelyn Marie Adams, $5.4 million. Adams won the New Jersey lottery twice in 1985 and 1986 and admitted to being broke in an interview with The New York Post in 2012. Adams reportedly gambled excessively and lost the majority of her money in Atlantic City.
  • Andrew “Jack” Whittaker, $315 million. Whittaker’s 2002 lump-sum payout of $170.5 million supplemented his existing net worth of roughly $17 million. The millionaire donated a good percentage of his earnings to various charities and foundations until his divorce and the death of his granddaughter. From there, he experienced extensive theft and began drinking heavily.
  • Alex and Rhoda Toth, $13 million. The couple accepted payments of $666,666 over a 20-year span in 1990, but filed for bankruptcy in 2006 after living lavish lifestyles in Vegas and enduring a sleuth of legal expenses resulting from family drama. The couple was later charged with tax evasion. Rhoda was sentenced to two years in prison and was fined $1.1 million.
  • Billie Bob Harrell Jr., $31 million. Coined as “Santa Claus,” Harrell paid bills and bought new cars and homes for his family before purchasing roughly 500 turkeys for the poor. Less than two years after winning the lotto, Harrell took his own life, according to Bankrate.
  • Janite Lee, $18 million. An entrepreneur in St. Louis, Lee donated wads of money to the Democratic National Committee, as well individual political candidates. She also donated to Washington University and its law school, according to Bankrate. In 2001, after extensive spending, Lee filed for bankruptcy with only $700 left to her name. She had reportedly lost roughly $350,000 gambling.
  • Suzanne Mullins, $4.2 million. Mullins won in the Virginia lottery in 1993, a prize that amounted to 20 annual payments of $50,000. In 1998, Mullins took out a loan from the People’s Lottery Foundation, but was later sued in 2004 for owing the foundation over $150,000 from the loan.
  • Denise Rossi, $1.3 million. Upon winning the lottery, Rossi’s first endeavor was to divorce her husband, who had no knowledge of the win. In 1999, the ex-husband sued and the judge declared that Rossi had violated state asset-disclosure laws. As a result, the ex-husband received all of the winnings, according to Bankrate.

Click here to read about the biggest lottery payouts of all time.

Related Links:

10 Youngest Billionaires On The Forbes 400 List

Scrooges Of The Forbes 400: America's Least Philanthropic Billionaires

Photo courtesy of Mega Millions. 

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