Nine days ago, three Americans won the Powerball lottery drawing. They’ll split $1.6 billion. Assuming they all take a lump sum amount, each winner will come away with a post-tax fortune of about $285 million. Anyone would consider that fantastic. Not me.
Look, I can think of lots of things to do with $285 million. Most winners say they’ll give to their churches—don’t Jews, Muslims and Hindus ever cash in?—buy houses for their family members and possibly friends, and do other good things. My agenda would be similar. But thank God I don’t have to think about it.
While I haven’t done extensive research, I have a strong feeling that most people who play the lottery are not among America’s top one percent. They’re dreamers from among the lower middle-class and poor. Others are middle-middle struggling to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck. It would be a rare winner who’s ever managed a large sum of money and the challenges that go with that task. And from what I’ve read, some winners find that the money goes quickly.
The challenges of winning the lottery represent real headaches. Once people know you have millions of dollars—even a million or half that—they all want a piece. I’ve read stories about athletes signing their first professional contract and finding people crawling out of the woodwork to board the gravy train and threatening violence if they’re denied. What makes lottery winners different? Nothing. And the worst part? The people closest to you, the people who love you, can be the biggest problems because they believe that’s what yours is theirs.
So what if I ever win? Actually, that would be impossible. I don’t play. But if I did, and I beat those 1-in-100-million or 200-million or 300-million odds, I’d be prepared to a point. I have a financial advisor, an attorney and a CPA. They’re all smart and all trustworthy. But I’d still be scared as hell.
The first thing I’d do is put a security consultant on my team. I’d want my house made safer. I’d want advice about keeping a low profile to not be noticed in public. Maybe I’d need a cheaper car to disguise myself. (I couldn’t wear less noticeable clothes, but that’s another story). I’d want to safeguard my kids, too. Because winning $285 million after-tax dollars and being put in the “celebrity” spotlight by a carnivorous media machine that gives little thought to the results of its coverage could leave a great big target on my back. And theirs.
There’s an old saying: Be careful what you wish for; you might get it. I can’t help feeling that your average big-time lottery winner might come to regret that magical ticket. Few people are prepared to deal with both the temptations and the dangers that accompany sudden wealth.
A story I read years ago sums it up. A star athlete met with his new agent. The athlete, who came from a humble background—nothing new here—had burned through his considerable earnings. The agent took him to task. The athlete was offended. “You’ve never been poor,” he offered. The agent, who had his work cut out for him, set his client straight. “And you’ve never been rich.”
Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.
The blog will take a week off and return on February 5.
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