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Australian lottery winners have stories that range from the inspirational to the tragic. A recent documentary series on television shared stories of sudden windfalls that spelled disaster for some jackpot winners, and the so-called “curse of the lottery” knows no geographical boundaries.
Of course, lotto winnings are only rarely the cause of misfortune. That’s just as true for lucky lottery players in Oceania as it is for people who find themselves suddenly wealthy anywhere in the world.
Stories of regular folks who strike it big playing scratchies or groups who pool their money to buy tickets (and end up with one that happens to match every single number in a national lotto drawing) are often fascinating. The fascination could be caused by something as simple as the long odds against a victory; anything rare is interesting to some. If you haven’t thought much about jackpot odds it may surprise you to learn just how unlikely it is for a person to win the top jackpot in the lottery.
Lottery jackpot amounts vary; the truly life-changing prizes (think of lottery games the size of Powerball or Euro Millions in Europe) exist because of differences between the size of their audience and the audiences of smaller state-based lotto games. The more people in your player pool, the larger the prize tends to be.
Even though there is some variation between games, lotto odds are all steep enough to have earned these games nicknames like “a tax on people who are bad at math.” A player who buys a Euro Millions ticket, for example, has a 1 in 116,531,800 chance of collecting a jackpot that hovers around the 50,000,000 Euro mark. That means a single player who brings home this game’s jackpot just pulled off a truly rare feat. A Euro Millions player is more likely to be hit by lightning eight times in a single year than win the big money.
The long odds against earning the prize, and the fact that winnings often go to an average person, are a big reason why stories of big lotto jackpots are popular. To that end, here are stories of Australian lottery winners, some uplifting and some awful.
A retired woman in Lilydale found out she held a ticket worth the fourth largest lotto prize in Australian history in December of 2012 when she got a call from TattsLotto. The woman hadn’t even checked her numbers against the winners when she got the call, and says she stumbled to find her reading glasses so she could verify that a prank wasn’t being played. In an interview with the Melbourne Herald Sun, the anonymous retiree and her husband, who was also set to retire sometime this year, were only casual lotto players, only buying a ticket when the jackpot got really high.
Though the family has managed to remain out of the spotlight, the money will come in handy, as all three of the pairs’ children were carrying large amounts of debt from pursuing degrees from universities abroad. It’s nice to read about prizes going to families in need, especially when they’re as humble as this group, seemingly concerned more with paying off their debt than buying expensive sports cars and other toys.
Sometimes the curse of a big lotto prize happens because of irresponsibility; a recent story about a Canadian family torn apart by a jackpot has nothing at all to do with bad behaviour. It is stories like this that make the curse seem like a real thing.
As reported in the Daily Mail, a 77 year old retired taxi driver from Montreal earned a $16 million prize in 2009. Within three years, the lucky Canadian citizen (named Lucien Nault) experienced one calamity after another.
Nault, whose health was failing before he won the money, is experiencing dementia, allowing a family friend and some of his neighbours to manipulate him into spending the prize for their gain.
One family friend got him to buy a house for her, costing him $300,000. His wife left him after a dispute over her claims to his jackpot. Worst of all, Mr. Nault’s son died while visiting Australia. The lotto winner’s son was in Melbourne to visit the family of his wife (Nault’s daughter-in-law) who’d drowned a few weeks earlier in a tragic accident. The death of Nault’s son and daughter-in-law just three weeks apart in unrelated accidents makes the supposed curse seem very real.
Rather than concentrate on horror stories like Lucien Naults, which are far rarer than happy tales of how a big prize changes lives, think about this story about a family of Australians who find themselves the lucky recipients of a lotto windfall . . . and continue to live the way they have for decades.
In 2010, the Sydney Morning Herald reported a series of stories focusing on the Chester family. The family of five had an average Aussie work-a-day lifestyle when Mr. Chester bought a Tatts lotto ticket on a whim while commuting home from work. No one in the family had ever purchased a ticket before or gambled on casino games, poker, or anything more serious than a charity auction at church. Mr. Chester’s ticket won the family $18 million. What did they do with it?
Not much. The Chester’s story is boring in some ways – yes they made millions of dollars of improvements to their home and no doubt they socked money away in investment accounts, but besides that, they live exactly as they did. Remaining somewhat anonymous – the paper never reported where they live or any details besides the family name – Mrs. Chester remarks that no one but their vicar know that they had a windfall. The vicar only knows about it because the Chesters made a large one-time tithe of 10% of the prize, and it seemed natural to explain where this huge donation came from.
The curse of the lottery is fiction; or, at worst, it is as true as a jackpot’s winners want to make it. People who win a few thousand, a few hundred thousand, or even hundreds of millions of dollars are faced with a series of important choices. The way a lotto prize holder spends the cash (or, even better, the way they invest it) is a personal decision, one that could affect a family or individual for years to come.
We all like to think that if we won a big prize we’d live a life much like the Chester family. Avoiding a catastrophe like those experienced by supposedly cursed lotto players has more to do with the way you handle yourself than any bad luck streak supernaturally imposed by the lotto game itself.