Someone very lucky could go to bed $1.5 billion richer Wednesday night. Debbie Mason of Prairie Village is sure it won’t be her.
But on Tuesday the construction company administrative assistant bought one $2 Powerball ticket anyway at Roeland Park Liquors.
The paper sign behind the counter that displays the Powerball jackpot reads “00 million” because there’s not enough room to show all the zeroes in $1.5 billion.
Mason can’t fit that amount in her brain, either, “but I can wrap my mind around several things I’d like to do with it,” she said.
Taking her family on a vacation to a warm place would be one of those things; an education for her grandchildren would be another.
Mikey Mauldin, who also bought a ticket at the store on Tuesday, said he couldn’t “imagine $50,000 in my pocket, let alone $1.5 billion.” But he sure knows what he would do with it. A phone call to Royals owner David Glass would be involved.
“I wouldn’t spend it all,” said the 38-year-old, who works on an IT help desk. “I’d take care of family, and I would probably spend $15 million to $20 million to see if I can buy part of the Royals ... that would be my income, and I could actually say, ‘Yeah, that’s my squad.’ ”
Wanna-be Powerball winners dream big, and winners have lived even bigger — so big that over the years lottery winners have spent, lost and squandered millions of dollars — cautionary tales for anyone who should beat the 1 in 292 million odds of winning the Powerball on Wednesday night.
Take, for instance, the story of Billie Bob Harrell Jr., who chose the correct six numbers and won a $31 million Texas Lottery jackpot in June 1997. What happened to him is part of lottery lore.
A religious man who was nearly broke when he hit it big, the 48-year-old Harrell enjoyed the money, at first. He quit his job at The Home Depot, took his family to Hawaii, and bought cars and houses for his friends and family — a virtual lottery Santa Claus.
But then strangers started calling and asking for money. He was harassed so often that he changed his phone number. The stress broke his marriage.
Twenty months after becoming a multimillionaire, Harrell killed himself. “Winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” he had told a friend.
Sharon Tirabassi was a single mom on welfare in 2004 when she won $10.5 million from the Ontario Lottery. She spent her winnings on a “big house, fancy cars, designer clothes, lavish parties, exotic trips, handouts to family and loans to friends.” Less than a decade later she was back riding the bus, working part-time and living in a rented house.
Janite Lee blew through her winnings, too. The wigmaker from South Korea who ran a shop in downtown St. Louis spent the $18 million Illinois lottery jackpot she won in 1993 in eight years.
She gave much of it away. “As you know, anybody who wins the lottery, everyone comes to them,” a friend told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
She gave $1 million to Washington University in St. Louis and had a reading room at the law school there named for her. She became a major Democratic Party donor and hobnobbed with none other than Bill Clinton. The Post-Dispatch reported that she donated $277,000 to various candidates, many of them prominent Missouri Democrats who sought her out for money.
But Lee also liked to gamble. She reportedly blew about $347,000 in a year on her habit and ended up bankrupt by 2001.
There’s just so much to learn when you win a lottery. Apparently what you don’t know can hurt you, as Evelyn Adams discovered.
Adams was lucky enough in the mid-1980s to win the New Jersey Lottery not once but twice — $5.4 million in all. But then she lost some of it at the slot machines in Atlantic City and gave away a lot of it.
“I won the American dream, but I lost it, too. It was a very hard fall. It’s called rock bottom,” she said. “Everybody wanted my money. Everybody had their hand out. I never learned one simple word in the English language: no.
“I wish I had the chance to do it all over again. I’d be much smarter about it now. Winning the lottery isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.”
Don’t forget the taxes
The tax man is one reason that jackpot won’t be what it’s cracked up to be. The U.S. government automatically withholds 25 percent of large prizes. Winners will pony up the remaining 14.6 percent in federal taxes come tax time in April 2017.
“If they win the jackpot, they’re going to be subject to the highest federal tax rate of 39.6 percent,” Melissa Labant, director of tax advocacy for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, told CNBC. “It’s a lot more significant than folks expect.”
Some states, too, might review your background to make sure you don’t owe money to someone. Do you owe child support? Are you behind on your taxes? If so, those debts could come out of your winnings.
For safety’s sake, it’s not a good idea to go waving that winning ticket around for all to see. (Oh, and don’t forget to sign it.)
One lottery winner discovered just how far someone — even family — will go to get money.
Bud Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988. “I wish it never happened. It was totally a nightmare,” he said.
After putting a lot of the money into several family businesses, he dug himself into $1 million of debt and even went to jail for firing a gun over the head of a bill collector.
A former girlfriend successfully sued him for a share of his winnings, and his brother was arrested for hiring a hit man to kill him in the hopes he’d inherit a share of the winnings.
If you buy the winning Powerball ticket in Kansas, you have the legal right to keep your identity anonymous. Kansas is one of only five states that let you do that; Missouri doesn’t offer anonymity.
Advice from experts and a rich guy
Many financial advisers recommend that if you have the winning ticket don’t tell anyone until you’ve hired a, well, financial adviser.
Better business advice might have kept lottery winner Suzanne Mullins out of trouble. When she won $4.2 million in the Virginia lottery in 1993, she opted for the yearly payments instead of a lump sum. Big mistake in her case.
When she found herself in debt — she blamed it on her son-in-law’s $1 million in medical bills — she borrowed nearly $200,000 using her future lottery payouts as collateral. When she didn’t pay it back, the loan company won a $154,000 settlement against her, but by then she was broke.
Trying to hide your winnings from someone who has a legal right to them is another bad idea.
In December 1996 Denise Rossi won $1.3 million in the California lotto, then conveniently forgot to tell her husband of 25 years. He was stunned when she demanded a quick divorce, but he gave it to her. She didn’t tell him she’d won the lotto just a few days earlier.
When he found out two years later, he sued her for keeping the winnings from him, and a judge awarded him all the prize money because she violated state asset disclosure laws.
Living this large can obviously overwhelm mere mortals. The Dallas Morning-News sought financial advice for lottery winners from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a billionaire several times over.
Cuban says lottery winners should just say no to friends and family who ask for money. “Tell them no,” he said. “If you are close to them, you already know who needs help and what they need.
“Feel free to help SOME, but talk to your accountant before you do anything and remember this, no one needs $1 million for anything. No one needs $100,000 for anything. Anyone who asks is not your friend.”
‘Experiment in optimism’
As that Powerball jackpot grew huge in recent days, customers at Roeland Park Liquors started buying more than just one or two tickets at a time, said Steve Shapiro, the store’s ordering manager.
“Suddenly ... they’re buying 15 tickets or they’re buying 20 tickets,” he said. “We had one person who bought more than $500 in tickets. It’s like Royals fever.
“It’s kind of an interesting experiment in optimism because with all the chances of losing, people honestly believe they have a shot.”
One man played the same numbers he’s played for 30 years, even though they’ve never won him anything. Maybe, Shapiro wondered, those numbers aren’t so “lucky.”
When one person told him she would quit her job and buy a new car if she won, Shapiro suggested she just hire a chauffeur.
Yes, he has his own ideas on what to do with $1.5 billion. But the man selling the tickets doesn’t plan to buy one himself.
“I’m one of those people who’s optimistic that I’m not going to win,” he said, “so I think I’ll hold on to my dollar.”