For most of us, winning the lottery is just a pipe dream. But for one man, it became a reality that quickly unraveled his life and revealed a much deeper problem with money.
The lottery winner lost it all in a way that left him ’embarrassed.’
You might think winning the lottery is a ticket to the good life, but for a huge percentage of winners, that’s an all too brief outcome. The numbers vary, but some estimates say roughly 70% of lottery winners go broke within five years, regardless of how much they’ve won.
In a way, a man who recently called into financial guru George Kamel’s online show is an outlier among these statistics. It took him a full eight years to lose his $1 million fortune instead of five.
But the experience has left him deeply “embarrassed” regardless, and as he explained to Kamel, his big win quickly uncovered a huge problem.
The man’s $1 million lottery win quickly turned into a gambling addiction.
The man told Kamel that he won “a million dollars on a scratch ticket in the state of Virginia when I was 28.” Now he’s 36, and it’s all gone. “I have gone through it all down to zero,” he told Kamel, “so I am a part of that statistic that, I don’t know, 80 or 90% of lottery winners lose it. I swore that I wouldn’t be, but here I am.”
It’s not quite as bad as it sounds. As always, his actual take home wasn’t $1 million, it was $555,000 after taxes. But still, that’s life-changing money for most of us, gone nearly as quickly as it came.
Lottery winners have been found to be far more likely to declare bankruptcy than the average American, typically within three to five years of their win. There are many reasons for this, most notably that lottery winners often don’t know how to manage their money, spend foolishly, make bad investments, and give too much of it away. Before long, it’s gone.
But for this man, there was far more to his big loss than merely being a spendthrift. “For the benefit of the listeners and a dark curiosity, can you tell us where that money went?” Kamel asked.
“I bought the ticket, so I gambled to buy the ticket… [and] never stopped,” the man replied. “It was more so with casinos, sports gambling, et cetera. I’m quite embarrassed by it.”
Photo: skynesher from Getty Images Signature / Canva Pro
Gambling addiction rates are currently soaring and embarrassment and shame are among the biggest barriers to treatment.
Gambling addiction is thought to affect just 1% of the population, but experts say because those numbers rely on gamblers self-reporting their addictions, they are all but certainly drastically inaccurate.
Due to the proliferation of online gambling, both gambling rates and the addictions they feed are skyrocketing. Gambling on the 2023 Super Bowl, for example, reached an all-time high according to the American Gambling Association, and gambling rates and revenue soared nearly 15% from 2021 to a record-breaking high in 2022, which the AGA attributed to the pandemic.
The National Council on Problem Gaming called the resulting impacts on gambling addiction “a ticking time-bomb” and estimated addiction rates have soared 30% since 2018, when the Supreme Court decided to strike down bans on sports gambling.
Experts say treatment for gambling addiction is hampered both by the financial problems it causes and also by the embarrassment and stigma people like this man who called into Kamel’s show often feel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, gambling addicts have the highest suicide attempt rates of any other form of addiction.
Thankfully, this man has been able to combat those feelings and reach out for help, both by attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings and by contacting Kamel for advice. He was able to come up with a plan based on the man’s income to get him back on track financially while he worked to treat his addiction.
It couldn’t have been easy to make those first steps, but there’s hope that he’s now on a path to a better post-lottery life now that he’s tackling things head-on.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a gambling addiction, help is available. Call or text the 24-hour Helpline at 1-800-GAMBLER.
John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.