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Pray that you don't win the billion-dollar lottery

There's a line in the hit 1988 film "Heathers" -- now running as a musical in London's West End -- when the ...

Posted: Oct 24, 2018 4:54 PM
Updated: Oct 24, 2018 4:54 PM

There's a line in the hit 1988 film "Heathers" -- now running as a musical in London's West End -- when the clique of popular girls takes an inane straw poll of their high school cafeteria. "You inherit $5 million the same day aliens land on the Earth and say they're going to blow it up in two days. What do you do?" The answers are as diffuse as they are wild: vows of selfless charity, fantasies of luring Madonna into prostitution, designs for suicide-bombing zoos "so you and the lion die like one."

This week, the winners of two high-rolling lottery jackpots may get to live out their own big-spending fantasies. Tuesday's MegaMillions drawing currently stands at $1.6 billion and Wednesday's lesser Powerball is still no snip at $620 million. There isn't even a promise of alien invasion to cut short the spending window.

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But in life, as in fiction, there's always still a catch. Is an overnight windfall of this magnitude really worth the hassle? Earlier this year, a New Hampshire woman sued for the right to retain anonymity while claiming her Powerball prize of $560 million. Most states still consider the identity of lottery winners a matter of public record.

If that sounds like a price worth paying for a half a billion life change, bear in mind the number of lottery winners who've met grisly ends after the news of their winnings spread.

In 2006, Abraham Shakespeare won $30 million in Florida; less than three years later, he was found buried under a concrete slab. Doris "Dee Dee" Moore, a woman who mysteriously befriended Shakespeare after his win, was eventually convicted of his murder. She'd offered to help Shakespeare manage his winnings, and killed him for them instead.

Shakespeare isn't the only winner who's been killed after becoming a high-profile target. In November 2015, Craigory Burch Jr. won $400,000 in Illinois and posed with the check. Two months later, he was killed in a targeted home invasion by gunmen demanding his money.

This is, of course, old wisdom. Chaucer's medieval "Pardoner's Tale" tells the story of three arrogant brothers eager to seek out and destroy Death. When they meet a wizened old man on their journey, so the tale goes, he directs them "to find Death, turn up this crooked way" and points them to a glistening casket of gold buried in the roots of the tree. It only takes this sudden windfall to ensure all three of the brothers kill each other.

Six-hundred years later, J.K. Rowling adapts the tale in the Harry Potter books to tell the story of "the Elder Wand." In this version, Death gifts the eldest of the three brothers an all-powerful magic wand -- but it can't protect him in his sleep. Excited by his new power, he gets drunk in a nearby inn and boasts of his good luck, whereupon he promptly has his throat cut in his drunken sleep by a fellow patron. ("And so Death took the first brother for his own.") Folk knowledge through the ages has warned us: Too much sudden gold or power, and you attract the wrong type of envy.

Still, who doesn't want to win the lottery? Just keep your mouth shut, do your best to claim anonymity (easier in some states than other) and don't flash your cash, right?

If only it were that simple. Even if you can keep out of the limelight, it's hard to adapt to sudden wealth when you're not used to it. Drug addiction has plagued lottery winners. Jack Whittaker, who won the Powerball in 2002, lost his daughter and granddaughter to drugs and blamed their sudden wealth for fueling their spending on drugs. ("My granddaughter is dead because of the money," Whittaker said in 2007. "You know, my wife said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we tore the ticket up, too.")

Even those born into wealthy families, whose relatives have every opportunity to teach them how to manage money, often screw it up. The last Duke of Marlborough had to put Blenheim Palace, one of Britain's largest stately homes and birthplace of Winston Churchill, into a trust to avoid his ex-convict son from taking control of it. In 1999, citing the Marlborough case, the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland went to court to delay the receipt of an inheritance by their son George, who was 14 years old at the time.

"Too much too young," they argued, would leave him vulnerable to "vices and pitfalls." George Percy has since forged his own career in geothermal energy and will still inherit Alnwick Castle on his parents' death.

But the concerns of parents like the Northumberlands have fueled the rise of "Next Generation" programs in private banks, which specialize in teaching the young how to manage their money sensibly. If you do win this week's Powerball, the best thing you can probably do is sign up to spend a week alongside the world's young aristocrats and oil heirs.

It's sad but true: The best answer given to a fantasy wealth questionnaire in popular culture isn't the hedonism of "Heathers," but the vow of Ross Geller in "Friends" as he snatches a lottery ticket from his friends in season 9: "I'm going to put it all into a very low-yield bond!"

Given that winning $1.6 billion seems like so much trouble, you might consider passing altogether on this week's game of chance. If these horror stories of a "lottery" curse don't put you off, consider the old moral arguments: Lottery tickets are primarily bought in poor neighborhoods, by people who can't afford to throw their money away. Even if your Powerball purchase this week is a one-off flutter, you're still fueling an industry powered by perpetuating gambling addictions.

But if you've really got to play this week, enjoy the thrill. Just cross your fingers, count your lucky stars and pray that you don't win.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 608519

Reported Deaths: 9693
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion840461335
Lake45349684
Allen32803548
Hamilton29394315
St. Joseph27380381
Elkhart24404345
Vanderburgh19411249
Tippecanoe17970138
Johnson15069295
Porter14783169
Hendricks14401248
Madison10965221
Vigo10726181
Clark10677144
Monroe9383110
Delaware9116134
LaPorte9065163
Howard8236144
Kosciusko806983
Warrick672999
Hancock6697104
Bartholomew6484100
Floyd6428110
Wayne6136162
Grant5991115
Dubois555579
Boone551168
Morgan541295
Henry507864
Marshall503984
Cass483263
Dearborn479845
Noble473059
Jackson425047
Shelby417581
Lawrence391079
Clinton373043
Gibson370359
Harrison348144
DeKalb347164
Montgomery345754
Knox335639
Miami321444
Steuben313745
Whitley307326
Wabash303251
Adams300936
Ripley298445
Putnam296850
Huntington291659
Jasper289034
White273243
Daviess270474
Jefferson263338
Decatur247683
Fayette247148
Greene239862
Posey239328
Wells236051
LaGrange228862
Scott225339
Clay222532
Randolph213548
Jennings198936
Sullivan192333
Spencer191321
Washington186423
Fountain184027
Starke175443
Jay167623
Owen165737
Fulton164030
Orange159534
Carroll158015
Rush155118
Perry154229
Vermillion149134
Franklin148333
Tipton132332
Parke13078
Pike116926
Blackford111022
Pulaski97037
Newton90921
Brown88035
Benton86610
Crawford7999
Martin73713
Warren6817
Switzerland6615
Union6287
Ohio4907
Unassigned0376

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 859841

Reported Deaths: 10680
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin101171707
Cuyahoga855711125
Hamilton64017448
Montgomery43107418
Summit34836761
Lucas31350625
Butler30973232
Stark25786435
Warren19671140
Lorain19017223
Mahoning17321338
Lake16080154
Clermont15926111
Delaware1438878
Licking13204137
Trumbull12809316
Fairfield1279381
Greene12055137
Medina11591168
Clark10942265
Wood10348158
Allen9897126
Portage9296109
Miami916873
Richland9139118
Marion7459113
Tuscarawas7381182
Columbiana7327124
Pickaway726150
Wayne7034171
Muskingum703141
Erie6152129
Hancock552390
Ross548998
Scioto539164
Geauga508455
Darke470292
Ashtabula453073
Lawrence452654
Union451828
Sandusky436662
Mercer433589
Seneca430166
Huron428741
Auglaize422264
Shelby421222
Jefferson419269
Belmont416840
Washington388740
Athens38009
Putnam374975
Madison355129
Knox352622
Ashland344938
Fulton338443
Defiance330086
Crawford322374
Preble320637
Brown312921
Logan307332
Ottawa293943
Clinton290143
Williams278667
Highland275118
Jackson263845
Guernsey254125
Champaign252028
Fayette236530
Morrow23234
Perry231318
Holmes225474
Henry218749
Hardin213033
Coshocton205622
Van Wert202245
Gallia196726
Wyandot196051
Pike176217
Adams176115
Hocking172024
Carroll155616
Paulding144321
Noble120540
Meigs108624
Monroe100732
Harrison89121
Morgan83130
Vinton70213
Unassigned00
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