These Lotto Winners Had It All…But They Let Everything Slip Away

Perhaps the saddest reality of life is that the average person will spend at least one-third of their existence working some job or occupation. As fulfilling as it is to be a contributing member of society, it can be easy to get consumed by the work and let the rest of your life pass you by. Unfortunately, many of us are stuck in that dreaded cycle where we must work to live and live to work.

That’s why the lottery has such appeal. For many people, it is the best option for early retirement, since a single big-money win can set you up for life. However, having millions of dollars can be a double-edged sword—there are many horror stories of lottery winners who lost their prizes as quickly as they gained them. Here are 13 of those unlucky people and their stories to give you some much-needed perspective:


1. The Downward Spiral

James Hayes was one of the luckiest people in the world. Back in 1988, when he used to work as a security guard he bought a ticket for California’s Super Lotto and ended up winning $19 million dollars in an instant,

Unfortunately, that win was very short-lived—according to reports, his ex-wife seized half of his winnings, and soon after, he developed a nasty substance addiction that sent his life on a rapid downward spiral.

When his funds started to deplete, Hayes turned to a life of crime to keep up his lifestyle, conducting robberies across the city. He even earned the nicknames “PT Cruiser Bandit” and “Seasoned Bandit” by the FBI due to his recognizable getaway vehicle and grey hair.

Hayes’ criminal run came to an end in March 2018 when he finally pleaded guilty to a bank robbery. He was sent to prison for 20 years.

2. Not A Friend

Could you imagine winning the lotto at just 20 years old? That’s what happened to Jay Sommers, a Michigan native who shared a grand prize of $28.9 million with four other friends in 1988.

Upon receiving his first installment of $290,000, Sommers decided to buy five luxury cars for himself, which ended up being a terrible move on his part.

At some point, he wasn’t able to pay his taxes, so he confided in one of his friends to manage his money for him. Unfortunately, this “friend” ended up taking advantage of him, emptying out his bank account and using it to invest in his own dead-end enterprises.

As a result, Sommers was forced back to a life of normalcy. He sued his friend but also had to start delivering pizzas to make a living.

3. Rags To Riches…To Rags

Michael Carroll is a British man who managed to win $14.4 million back in 2002 when he was just 19. He immediately quit his job as a garbage collector and started splurging his money, buying expensive things like a mansion and gold jewelry.

At one point, he started to purchase substances, which sent him on a clear path to addiction. Carroll eventually ended up in prison and lost all of his prize money within 10 years.

When he got out, he started working at a cookie factory in Scotland, making only $300 a week. Most recently, he worked as a slaughterhouse employee.

Although he now lives a humble life, he’s grateful that he can spend time with his young daughter while it still counts.

4. Familial Advice

Back in 1981, Lou Eisenberg won $5 million from the New York lottery, making him one of the biggest prize winners of that time.

Upon winning, he quit his job as a handyman and immediately sought out his family and friends for advice on how he should spend his winnings.

He first bought a beachfront property, then spent a chunk of it traveling to different countries with his wife. He also donated some of it away.

Recently, Eisenberg was reportedly living the retired life in a Florida trailer, earning just $250 in social security checks.

5. Soaring, Flying

William Post III never knew what having money was like until he won the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988. In almost an instant, he went from working all sorts of odd jobs to having $16.2 million in his bank account.

Unfortunately, things went south for him just as quickly. After helping his siblings start a restaurant and used-car business, as well as treating himself to a plane (even though he didn’t even own a pilot’s license), Post found himself in trouble with an old flame.

His former ex-girlfriend, who also happened to be his landlord, sued him for a third of his winnings. When he refused to pay, all of his assets were frozen by a local judge. In all of that chaos, he also had a falling out with his family members – one of his brothers even hired a hitman to try and kill him.

Post ended up selling everything he purchased but was ultimately sent back to prison after he shot at a repo man who came to take his car away. He later died at 66 years of age.

6. The Christmas Gift

Winning the lotto on Christmas morning would probably be the best gift ever. That’s exactly what happened to John Whittaker, a construction company owner who won the Powerball prize of $315 million in 2002.

He used the money to give back to his community, constructing two churches for $15 million and later founding the John Whittaker Foundation, which helped people with their car and house payments.

Little did he know that his kind heart would be his downfall—by the time 2007 rolled around, Whittaker’s bank account had dried up, and things only snowballed from there. His construction company was hit with several lawsuits, his granddaughter developed a substance addiction, and his house even caught on fire.

Whittaker and his wife later said that the ticket was cursed. If they could go back in time, they said they would tear it up without hesitation.

7. The Demon Inside

In 1990, Florida native Alex Toth won $13 million from the state lottery and asked to receive the money in installments. After the calculations, it was determined that he would receive $666,666 every year…That number alone should have been his first red flag.

He traveled the world with his wife Rhonda and met a bunch of celebrities too, including Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump. By all accounts, their life was great, and it would have stayed that way… if not for Toth’s gambling problem.

Not only did he gamble away most of his money, but he also never did his taxes properly, so he was also later charged with tax fraud. His case was supposed to go to trial, but Toth suddenly died of a heart attack in 2008 when he turned 60 years old.

8. The American Dream

Janite Lee immigrated from South Korea to the United States in pursuit of the American dream, but she got something even better—$18 from the Illinois Lottery in 1993.

She immediately quit her job at the wig shop and moved into a mansion in St. Louis. There, she began giving out donations to support various institutions and politicians.

$1 million of her winnings went to the Washington University School of Law, where they built a new library in her name, and she also gave out sizable donations to Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Unfortunately, her generosity led her to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2001. At that time, she only had $700 left in her account.

9. A Real-Life Santa

Texas resident Billie Bob Harrell Jr. took home $31 million in lotto winnings back in 1997. He immediately quit his job, went on vacation to Hawaii, paid off his bills, and bought all sorts of luxury goods for himself.

Harrell bought houses and cars for all of his family members and even donated as many as 500 turkeys to feed the poor during the holidays. During an interview with People magazine, his mom said that he “played Santa Claus” that year.

But it turned out that some people wanted to take advantage of his giving spirit—at some point, random strangers started hounding Harrell for freebies, and he ended up having to change his phone number several times for privacy reasons.

Adding to the stress was the fact that his wife split up with him less than two years after he had won the money. Her departure proved to be too much for Harrell to handle as he ended up taking his own life not too long afterward.

10. Something Borrowed

Suzanne Mullins from Virginia took home $4.2 million in lotto winnings back in 1993. She initially asked to be paid out in annual installments, but when her son suddenly got sick, she realized she needed more money upfront.

She ended up getting a $200,000 loan from a special foundation that assists lottery winners, but she had to offer up her prize money as collateral. After paying off her son’s medical bills, she took out the rest of her money as a lump sum and quickly spent it all.

By 2004, she still owed the foundation $150,000, and when she couldn’t afford to pay it off, they sued her for the damages.

11. Sharing Is Caring

For 25 years, Thomas and Denise Rossi were happily married. They shared all of their possessions, down to their electric toothbrush. However, the moment Denise won the lotto, everything changed.

She took home $1.3 million from the California Lottery in 1996, but she never told her husband about it. Instead, she swiftly filed for divorce without giving him a single reason why.

She later revealed that she had actually been very unhappy with her marriage for years and that she only realized she could finally leave once she won the prize money. Her devious would have worked out, but the family court judge had other plans.

He ruled that keeping her lotto win a secret violated asset disclosure laws in their divorce case. He awarded all of the $1.3 million to Thomas instead, leaving Denise completely empty-handed.

12. Losing It All

David Edwards, an ex-convict, was 46 years old and unemployed when he lucked out on a $280 million Powerball jackpot. After taking a lump sum of $41 million (which was $27 million after taxes), Edwards immediately moved out of his parents’ house and splurged on the good stuff.

He bought cars, houses, collectible swords—everything under the sun. In fact, he went so overboard that in the first year alone, he had spent over $12 million of his earnings.

At some point, Edwards and his wife got wound up in substance use and developed nasty addictions. They eventually lost all of the prize money fueling that lifestyle and ended up dying in a hospice.

13. When Lightning Strikes

It’s rare enough to see someone win the lotto once, but twice? That’s how lucky Evelyn Basehore was. The New Jersey convenience store clerk first won $2.9 million from a Pick-6 lotto game in 1985, then won again a few years later, taking home an additional $1.4 million.

She got a little too comfortable with her winnings and started buying all sorts of gifts for her family and friends. She also developed a bit of gambling addiction and frequented casinos in Atlantic City whenever she could.

Basehore’s constant spending eventually resulted in her losing all her money. By 2012, she was living in a trailer park and worked two jobs just to get by.