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Be careful what you wish for: Lottery winners not always lucky

Do we all hope to win the lottery? We can't think of anyone who would say, "$35 million? Eh. I can take it or leave it." Most of the people we know who are deeply in debt hope for more than a balanced budget; they want the security that comes with that windfall, the feeling of putting debt behind us forever.

The kind of money we are talking about does not always bring peace and happiness, though. For some, winning the Powerball didn't work out so well.

For example: In 1993, an Illinois native won the Illinois lottery. The 60-year-old woman opted to take her prize in installment -- about $620,000 per year. She shared her newfound wealth with a variety of charities and rubbed elbows with Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Something went awry, though, and she assigned the installments to a third party in exchange for a lump sum. By 2001, she had less than $700 in her pocket and debts adding up to $2.5 million. She filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

A Chicago man won $1 million from a scratch-off ticket in 2012. He decided to take his winnings in a lump sum payment of $450,000. The day after the check was issued, the 46-year-old died -- from cyanide poisoning. His murder has yet to be solved.

In 2002, a 55-year-old millionaire hit a Powerball worth $315 million. In spite of his experience managing large sums, his life took a sad turn after the big win. He began to drink. He reported multiple thefts of cash to the police, including the 2007 report that his bank accounts had been emptied out. His woes extended to his family, too: By 2009, both his granddaughter and his daughter had passed away.

There are stories of murder and suicide, of millions blown on gambling and lavish, unsustainable lifestyles. These cases have high profiles but may be statistically rare, so, in truth, the odds of winning turning out to be a curse could be about par with the odds of winning at all.

Source: ABC 13/Eyewitness News (Houston), "Broke and murdered: Real life lottery horror stories," Justin Sedgwick, Feb. 10, 2015

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