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Gini Graham Scott Headshot

The New Lottery Giveaway

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Being lucky in winning the lottery may not be so lucky after all. In fact, it might be a downright disaster, as I've discovered in reading about the bad luck lottery winners.

Only the latest account is the sad saga of Urooj Khan, an Indian businessman from Chicago, who was poisoned to death with cyanide, presumably at a family dinner, the night before he was going to pick up a check for his lottery winnings Initially, he was buried after what seemed like a sudden illness, but a suspicious relative called the police to investigate, and since then a story of family quarrels has emerged that hint at possible motives. Now the police plan to exhume his body to determine how he was poisoned and who might have done it. It's a real who-dunnit that will probably turn up as a feature on the 48-Hours mystery series or at your local movie multiplex.

But Khan is only the most recent lottery winner whose life fell apart after winning. There have been many dozens of such victims, even from the early days of the lottery. For example, a 2006 USA Today story, "Lottery Winners' Good Luck Can Go Bad Fast," described how William "Bud" Post, who won $16.2 million in the 1988 Pennsylvania Lottery, had a brother who tried to have someone kill him for the inheritance, and later Post spent all his winnings and was living on Social Security when he die in 2006. Billie Bob Harrell Jr., who won the $31 million Texas Lottery in 1997, committed suicide two years later, after a spree in which he bought cars and real estate and contributed money to his family church and friends. Victoria Zell, who won $11 million in a Powerball jacket with her husband, lost her money and served time in a Minnesota prison after she crashed her car while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, leaving one person dead and another paralyzed.

The stories of misfortune after winning go on and on. For example, in "A Treasury of Terribly Sad Stories of Lotto Winners," Jen Doll lists the various kinds of mishaps that can occur for winners - poverty after spending all the money on drugs and hookers or excessive gambling, losing friends, fighting among coworkers, being looked down on for the winnings, ending up in debt for failing to manage the money properly, a descent into crime, going bankrupt, getting murdered, committing suicide, and suffering a series of terrible events, such as experienced by Jack Whittaker of West Virginia. He was an already wealthy businessman who won $315 million, then the largest jackpot ever in December 25, 2002. As described by Joe Nocera in "The Bad Luck of Winning," a decade after Whittaker scored his big hit:

"His daughter and granddaughter had died of drug overdoses, his wife had divorced him, he had been sued numerous times. Once, when he was at a strip club, someone drugged his drink and took $545,000 in cash that had been sitting in his car. He later sobbed to reporters: 'I wish I'd torn that ticket up.'"

Well, after reading about all those tragedies that followed big lottery wins, I began thinking, what if instead of winning money in a lottery, people could register for a lottery in which they could give money away -- either their own or the money they win? Then, rather than suffering the bad luck or karma that seems to come with winning large sums of money, they might expect the great fortune or karma that comes to those who generously give to others. Instead of finding themselves overwhelmed and unable to handle the sudden riches they get in a regular lottery, they would experience the joy and fulfillment of giving their money to others they don't know, depending on the type of lottery they enter. Call it the "Great Lottery Giveaway."

Here's how it might work. Just like a regular lottery, the person would pay $1 for each ticket. But the lottery might be set up to offer varying amounts that would be given away -- and different lotteries would offer different types of individuals or organizations who would be given the money. For example, one lottery might offer to give the money to a certain well-known charity; another lottery might give the money for research on cancer or other disease; still another might offer the money to pay for a cultural center; some might target disadvantaged individuals, such as the homeless or victims of terrible crimes, and so on. Just think of a needy cause and there could be a lottery with tickets for that. Then, the winner could be celebrated as the guest of honor at a gala event, where the recipients of the lottery winnings could meet and thank their benefactor.

Additionally, there might even be some lotteries, where people might contribute their own money for a reward, and lottery ticket buyers could buy tickets which give that money away. Then, both the contributors and winners would be celebrated for at an awards ceremony for that lottery.

This idea of a great lottery give-away seemed like a light-hearted joke when I first thought of it -- a kind of parody of the hard luck winner stories I read about. But the more I thought about the possibility and wrote up this article, the more I started thinking how this could really be a great idea that could work. Just think of the benefits that could be created as the funds from the lottery are donated to worthy causes. And think of the way the winners lives could be transformed by benefiting from all the good luck they get by giving money away, rather than the bad luck of winning so much money that they can't handle what they win.

Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing . She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions. Her latest books include: The Very Next New Thing: Commentaries on the Latest Developments that Will Be Changing Your Life, Living in Limbo: From the End to New Beginnings, and Want It, See It, Get It: Visualize Your Way to Success.