The American dream?

As each lotto ball rattles in orbit out of the machine and slides neatly into place on the viewing ramp, your heart quickens, palms moisten. Six balls with painted numbers, a one in a million chance to change your life, indefinitely.

For years you’ve been quietly planning how you’d make the most of your winnings. A new house, cars for the children, shopping spree, dream vacation, a retirement plan, and investments – all you need is a miracle.

As each new ball corresponds to the slip of paper in your dampening palms, a new possession becomes possible as your odds of winning the jackpot exponentially heighten. Perhaps it is a night for a miracle.

As the last balls chinks next to its companions, you can’t believe it. Six balls which carry the same numbers as the ones you picked yesterday at the supermarket.

A perfect accident which will change your life forever. You’re ecstatic. You’re a millionaire. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, actually everything.

For centuries Americans have played the lottery, a weekly tradition which, since 1963, thousands have relied on for a sense of hope and escape. Since its beginning over 1,000 people have won the lottery and each as ecstatic as the last have planned how to spend their millions. But for some a lottery curse seems to have fallen upon them and taken them down with no mercy.

In fact, nearly one-third of multimillion dollar lottery winners are bankrupt just a few years later.

Evelyn Adams, who won the New Jersey lottery in 1985 and 1986 for a total of $5.4 million, gambled and gave away all her winnings and in 2001 was a penniless gambling-addict who lived in a trailer.

Jeffrey Dampier, was kidnapped and murdered by his own sister-in-law after winning $20 million on the Florida lottery.

After two years Willie Hurt, who won $3.1 million in Michigan in 1989 had spent his entire fortune on divorce and crack cocaine and was charged with murder.

After William Post won $16.2 million in a Pennsylvania lottery in 1988 his brother tried to hire a contract killer to hit him, his wife left him and he died living off of housing cheques, bankrupt.

Of course, for every story of woe, there’s one of gratitude, success and happiness.

Like Sheelah Ryan who donated all her money to charity and used it for bettering her neighbourhood.

Lottery wins, have taught us something though. They act as a magnifying glass on a person’s problems and assets. If they are irresponsible, chances are they’ll be more so, if they’re generous the same. Take the polar opposite case of Sheelah Ryan who became one of America’s most generous lottery winners, dedicating her life to using her win to help good causes.

“It can bring out either the best or the worst in people,” says Deloughery. “I’ve seen people who had drug addictions or are alcoholics and all of a sudden they have a lot more money to buy more drugs or more time to drink.”

That being said the threat of drinking or smoking more is unlikely to put off any winner, and so we continue to play, hoping one day too our miracle might come.

 

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