“We look forward with anticipation to the growing jackpot,” Pat McDonald, the current executive director of the Ohio Lottery Mega Millions consortium, said in a press release on Wednesday. “It’s truly breathtaking to watch the jackpot build up over a period of months and reach the billion dollars. We encourage customers to balance the game and enjoy the ride.”
McDonald added: “Someone is going to win.”
But as players rush to pick up their Mega Millions tickets and dream big – the odds of matching all six numbers are roughly 1 in 303 million – another popular question is once again at the center of attention for those already making unrealistic plans for their own. Hypothetical $1 Billion Win: What Would You Do If You Won the Lottery?
A history of lottery winners from the past shows a wide range of what players do with their winnings. Many have paid off debts, bought houses and invested their money, while others have put the money into building a water park, gambling in Atlantic City or setting up a professional wrestling organization for women. Some adapted to life as a multimillionaire. Others say that the joy and excitement that came from the unexpected sudden wealth quickly turned into bad choices and sadness — ruining their lives.
“When you immediately realize you’ve won, you’re excited. You think, ‘Oh my god, this is great, my life is going to change,’ said Robert Pagliarini, who is president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors in California and has worked with lottery winners. “That is immediately followed by fear and anxiety – ‘Oh my god, what am I doing? How am I going to handle this? My life could change and maybe not for the better.’ ”
Friday’s jackpot is just under last year’s $1.05 billion Mega Millions jackpot won by a single ticket shared by four members of a suburban Detroit lottery club. If no winning ticket is selected on Friday, the Mega Millions jackpot will be closer to the record $1.5 billion won by a South Carolina player in 2018. The player, who also chose to remain anonymous, opted for the lump sum of more than $877 million, according to the South Carolina Education Lottery Commission.
Millions of players are expected to purchase $2 tickets to this week’s Mega Millions, played in 45 states plus Washington and the US Virgin Islands. According to Mega Millions, there were over 6.7 million winning tickets at all levels for Tuesday’s draw, including nine tickets with winnings ranging from $1 million to $3 million each.
With the increased interest in the $1 billion jackpot and the spike in ticket sales, it becomes more likely that one person, or several people, will have a winning ticket after Friday’s draw, said Mark Glickman, an associate professor of statistics at Harvard University. .
“The big difference is that as these jackpots get bigger and bigger, more people will play, so there’s a better chance someone is going to win,” Glickman said. “But that’s not to say that an individual person will have a better chance. Once the pot reaches this range, there are plenty of people playing and there is a good chance someone will pick the right number.”
When players have picked the right lottery numbers, they usually all pay off their debts or look for homes for themselves or their loved ones, Pagliarini said. He reminded a client of his splurges on a new Malibu-area home overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Some have celebrated their wealth through investments and non-traditional purchases or donations. In 2011, John Kutey and his wife Linda used a portion of his $28.7 million share of the winning $319 million Mega Millions ticket he bought with colleagues to build a water park in Green Island, NY, to honor of their parents, according to the Albany Times Union. Louise White won a Rhode Island Powerball jackpot of more than $336 million after purchasing a rainbow sherbet in 2012 and starting a trust for her family named after the dessert, “The Rainbow Sherbet Trust,” ABC News reported.
Just this month, Crystal Dunn took her smaller winnings of more than $146,000 from a Kentucky Lottery online game and gave some of it away to strangers in the form of $100 gift cards to grocery stores.
She won the lottery. Then she shared her windfall with strangers.
But for every feel-good story about an unlikely lottery triumph, there are other experiences that highlight why it’s important to have a financial advisor and lawyer ready to help if one wins the big one, Pagliarini said.
“There are so many stories of these lottery winners ending up with less money than when they started,” he said. “The big question and fear is, ‘Am I going to blow it all up?’ And they can still ruin it all.”
After Evelyn Adams improbably won the New Jersey Lottery in both 1985 and 1986, winning more than $5.4 million in total, her 2012 winnings were entirely spent due to Atlantic City gambling and investment mistakes, according to Forbes. South Carolina native Jonathan Vargas, who was just 19 when he won a $35.3 million Powerball prize in 2008, spent his winnings on Wrestlicious, a women’s professional wrestling promotion he founded. The show, which featured scantily clad performers who also did sketch comedy, lasted only one season and cost Vargas nearly $500,000, according to CBS News.
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d recommend people just sit on it for a year,” he said in 2016. “Basically decide what they want to do with it.”
While stories of lottery luck have been well documented over the years, the endings of those stories have been varied.
He won Powerball’s $314 million jackpot. It has ruined his life.
Not long after William “Bud” Post won a $16.2 million jackpot in the Pennsylvania Lottery in 1988, his brother was arrested for hiring a hit man to kill him for the inheritance. Post was later successfully sued by an ex-girlfriend for a share of the winnings, and was in $1 million in debt by the time he died in 2006.
“Everyone dreams of winning money, but no one realizes the nightmares that come from the woodwork, or the problems,” he said in 1993.
In the case of Ronnie Music Jr. the $3 million he won in 2015 from a Georgia Lottery scratch card was used to purchase and distribute crystal meth. He pleaded guilty to investing in a drug gang in 2016 and was sentenced to 21 years in prison.
Despite the improbability of winning this week’s $1 billion jackpot, and the history associated with some winners who cashed in, it doesn’t stop people from wondering “what if?” Pagliarini plans to go to the store to buy two tickets for him and his daughter, while Harvard professor Glickman will continue to use his strategy of choosing Mega Millions numbers completely at random.
If he won, Glickman said he would like to buy a vacation home in La Jolla, California, where he had just returned from vacation. But Glickman is honest in acknowledging that his history of playing the game means he, like millions of others, will have to put off those lottery dreams a little longer.
“When I played last week, I had one ticket that I think was worth $10 — and that’s the most I’ve ever won,” he said. “I’m going into this very well, knowing that luck won’t shine on me.”