Record $2 Billion Lottery Win: When Winning Can Be Losing

By Richard Young | Posted November 14, 2022

Your odds of winning the multistate Powerball lottery jackpot are approximately 292.2 million to one. With those numbers, you have a better chance of getting hit by a plane falling from the sky. Still, those astronomical odds don’t keep people from buying lottery tickets.

And, yes, somebody eventually gets that lucky, such as last week, when at Joe’s Service Center in Altadena, in Los Angeles County, the winning ticket was sold. If cashing out, as opposed to getting annuity payments over 29 years, the winner will bank a lump sum of $929,000,000.

Can you imagine it?

After all, when driving by a gas station and seeing those red neon lottery jackpot amounts going up by the millions daily, who hasn’t fantasied about winning? Who hasn’t thought about what they would do with a quick-and-easy $100 million—or even a mere $5 million? Whom would you help? What would you buy first? Where would you travel to? Who hasn’t thought, if even for only a few moments, about how radically their life would change?

And, of course, life would change dramatically. But would it necessarily change for the better? Not always. Indeed, there have been many cases in which winning the lottery actually led to ruin for a winner. How could something so good turn out so badly?

At least one answer to that question can be found in the Word of God.

When Winning Led to Loss

One of the most publicized examples of a lottery winner’s life taking a tragic turn was that of Andrew Whitaker, an already well-to-do American businessman. On Christmas morning 2002, he stopped at a local supermarket in Hurricane, West Virginia, to gas up, eat breakfast, and buy lottery tickets, which included the winning set of numbers. As do most people, he cashed out—in his case, to the tune of $113,386,407, after taxes.

Talk about a dream come true!

However, within a few years, his life went south. He blamed it on the “curse” of having won. For starters, people were constantly asking him for money. “Any place that I would go, they would come up,” he said to ABC News. “I mean, we went to a ballgame, a basketball game … and we must have had 150 people come up to us … and it would be going right back to asking for money.”

But that was the least of his problems. For example, thieves twice broke into his car, making off with a total of $700,000 in cash, which he carried around in a suitcase. Later, his granddaughter’s boyfriend overdosed and died in Whitaker’s house; a few months later, his granddaughter was murdered. He was later arrested for DUI; sued for bouncing $1.5 million in bad checks; his daughter died; and his house burned down. He blamed all his bad fortune on winning a fortune.

“I wish,” he said, “that I’d torn the ticket up.”

In his book Life Lessons from the Lottery, author Don McNay documents many other lives of winners whose good luck ultimately turned into tragedy. He writes, “So many of them wind up unhappy or wind up broke. People have had terrible things happen. People commit suicide. People run through their money. Easy comes, easy goes. They go through divorce or people die.” 

No Profit Under the Sun

How could it happen? How could suddenly having so much money—and the freedom and opportunities that kind of money brings a person—turn out to be so bad for them?

It’s not that hard to understand. Who hasn’t heard about miserably unhappy rich people? King Solomon, for instance, was one of the richest men in the world. The book of Ecclesiastes is him talking about his fabulous wealth, when he had everything that the world could offer in those days. Yet, he wrote: 

“I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove. I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. … Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure. … Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done, and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed, all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:4–7, 10, 11).

Vanity? Grasping for the wind? No profit under the sun? The word “vanity” comes from the Hebrew word that means “vapor”—something fleeting, faint, temporary. In other words, Solomon came to realize how ultimately meaningless all this wealth was in the grand scheme of life—that it could not make him happy or his life fulfilled.

Surely, at some point, most of the rich—including those lottery winners—realize that money isn’t a guarantee of happiness or fulfillment that they thought it would be. Of course, a certain amount of money helps us get through this world. The Bible also doesn’t condemn having wealth in and of itself.

But we also need some things that money just cannot buy. Solomon wrote that God has put “eternity” in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We are made for a relationship with the eternal God. We were made to know and obey Him and to rest in the promise of eternal life through Jesus (John 10:28; Romans 6:23). The only real way to be satisfied is to know Jesus’ love and what He did for us at the cross.

So, when you see those red neon numbers, whether $86 million or $860 million, and start thinking about what you would do if you won, it would be a good time to think, instead, about what Jesus said: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19, 20). 

To learn more about how to store eternal treasure in heaven, check out our Study Guide A Love That Transforms

Richard Young
Richard Young is a writer for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.

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