13 Unlucky Lottery Winners Who Lost It All — to the Last Dime
By Dunja Radonic
Last Updated: February 24, 2023
Winning the lottery sounds like a solution to so many problems. However, there are lottery winners who lost it all and for whom hitting the jackpot was more of a curse than a blessing. Read more about what happened and know what to look out for in case you hit the jackpot yourself.
Lottery Winners Who Went Broke
9. Ronnie Music Jr. lost $3 million.
Some lottery stories are more unbelievable than others: after spending time behind bars for running a crystal meth lab and having an illegal gun, Ronnie Music Jr. got a chance to start anew. In 2015, he won $3 million and said he would spend it enjoying his life. However, Ronnie Music Jr. invested his winnings in a meth ring and became a drug lord. After his employees were caught with $500,000 worth of meth, the police found another $1 million in meth in his home, along with guns and bullets. Ronnie Music Jr. was sentenced to 21 years.
8. Suzanne Mullins lost $4.2 million.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of bad luck. In 1993, Suzanne Mullins won $4.2 million in the Virginia Lottery, which she was supposed to get in 20 annuity payments of $47,000. The first stroke of ill-fortune was that she had to spend 1$ million on the medical bills of her son-in-law, who later died. Then, by 2004, she was in debt to a company that lends money to lottery winners, and as she did not continue to pay the loan, they sued and won. So while Mulllins is among lottery winners who lost their millions, it wasn’t due to any parties.
=7. Jay Sommers lost $5 million.
In 1988, at the young age of 20, Jay Sommers won $5 million in the Michigan State Lottery, starting another one among the unluckiest lottery ticket winner stories. He spent his winnings on five racing cars and car equipment. His first annuity was gone in about a month after he claimed it.His friend was given control of Sommers’s money and he was supposed to invest it, however, he lost the money. Within just five years, Sommers was broke. Today, Sommers is still a professional driver, but he wishes he had never won the lottery.
=7. Curtis Sharp and Lou Eisenberg both lost $5 million.
The famous lottery winner turned pastor won $5 million in 1982, which he notoriously claimed with both his wife and girlfriend. He blew his money on parties, donations, cars, gambling, and lost some on divorces. He was close friends with Lou Eisenberg who lost his $5 million in the same way, and these two broke lottery winners were lifelong friends. After he lost his money, Sharp got a job as a pastor and worked with the prison population, living up to 82.
=7. Martyn Tott and his then wife Kay lost a $5 million ticket.
One of the most unique stories of people who won the lottery is the story of Martyn Tott and his (then) wife Kay who went through a terrible roller coaster with playing the lottery. First, they realized they won, then they realized they had lost the ticket, and then they proved the winning combination was theirs. Still, there was a catch—the 30-day time limit on reporting lost tickets was over, and the British lottery company didn’t need to pay them a single penny. The stress of winning and then not getting the money led to divorce. For a while, Martyn continued fighting for the money obsessively, but luckily, he moved on and dedicated himself to writing and film.
6. Evelyn Adams won the lottery twice, lost $5.4 million.
Against all odds, Evelyn Adams won the lottery two times in just four months, $3.9 million in October 1985 and another $1.4 million in February of 1986. However, the publicity it got her and the habit of giving away money, combined with a love of gambling helped her join the company of other lottery winners who went broke. She’d lost all her money by 2012 and now lives in a trailer park. In an interview for the US Sun, she said “Everybody wanted my money. Everybody had their hand out. I never learned one simple word in the English language, ‘no.'”
=5. Michael Carroll lost $10 million.
After winning $10 million at only 19, Michael Carroll, who worked as a binman at the time, started partying the money away…for ten years. Possibly the most lavish among lottery winners who went broke, he spent the jackpot on drugs, drink, cars, orgies, travel, and even invested £1m in his favorite football club, the Rangers.His new way of life caused his wife to leave him, brought him an alcohol addiction, and an arrest for cocaine possession. By 2013, he was bankrupt on jobseeker benefits and he even spent three months in a homeless hotel. But despite being on a list of lottery winners who lost it all, he did manage to get the most important things in life back. He has a home, a job as a coal delivery man, and his wife and he remarried. He doesn’t regret the parties.
=5. Gerald Muswagon lost $10 million.
One of the saddest lottery winners’ stories is that of Canadian man Gerald Muswagon. In 1998, he won the $10 million jackpot, but his fortune didn’t last long.He became famous for his lavish parties and reckless spending on luxurious gifts for his friends and family. He purchased cars, a house just for partying, and insane amounts of drugs and alcohol. He also invested in a logging business which unfortunately failed. Just a few years after his win, he became one of many lottery winners that lost it all, working at his friend’s farm to support his girlfriend and six children. In 2005, he ended his life.
=5. Sharon Tirabassi lost $10 million.
Tirabassi grew up poor and even lived a part of her teenage years in shelters. So in 2004, for a then single mother of three, fresh off welfare, who worked as a personal care provider— the $10 million win felt like a dream.However, as is usually the case with big lottery winners who went broke, she poured the money in luxury cars, expensive houses, holidays for friends and family, and helping people—a lot. With no financial knowledge or advisors, Tirabassi blew through her fortune and even lost the house she moved in with her new husband. After she went broke, she and her husband Vinny returned to work full-time, raising their six children and living a simple life.
4. Alex and Rhoda Toth lost $13 million.
One of the most famous couples among lottery winners that went broke, Alex and Rhoda Toth won $13 million in 1990. They chose the annuity option and started receiving annual payments of an unlucky $666,666. Just eleven years later, they filed for bankruptcy on two separate occasions — but their troubles were more than just financial.In 1996, Tampa Bay Times reported that Rhoda Toth asked for a judge to issue a restraining order to her son and his girlfriend. The cause of the family strife was money. To make matters worse, the Toth couple spent their winnings on gambling and luxury. Not only had the lottery winners gone broke, they also owed the IRS $2.5 million, for which Rhoda served two years in prison. Alex died before he even faced trial.
3. William Post III lost $16.2 million.
In 1988, the story of lottery winner William Post III, also known as Bud Post, took a turn from living on disability checks to winning $16.2 million in 1988. As soon as he got his first payment, he started spending impulsively, buying a restaurant, real-estate, and an airplane he didn’t know how to fly. Within a year, he was $1 million in debt.Unfortunately, those around him made his life after winning the lottery even worse. His brother planned to kill him for the money, and his one time girlfriend sued and got a third of his money. In the end, he filed for bankruptcy and stated he was much happier while he was broke.
2. Janite Lee lost $18 million.
Among lottery winners who lost everything, Janite Lee stands out for the way she spent her money. What got the better of her $18 million was idealism, as this wigmaker poured her money in donations to political campaigns, education (which got her name on a Washington Uni reading room), and other charitable causes.Her road from fortune to bankruptcy lasted eight years. In 2001, she filed for bankruptcy with no more than $700 in assets and $2.5 million in debt.
1. Billie Bob Harrell Jr. lost $31 million.
For Billie Bob Harrell Jr., winning the lottery was a curse. After being poor for the majority of his life, in 1997, he won $31 million. He started buying his family members houses, donated to the poor and to his church, and had to change his phone number due to constant requests for help.However, within just 20 months, not only had he become one of the biggest lottery winners who’d gone broke, his wife divorced him and a company that buys off annuities gave him a horrible deal, causing him to lose an insane amount of money. Unfortunately, Billie Bob Harrell Jr. killed himself.
Sometimes It’s Better Not to Win
While these stories show the often tragic lives of lottery winners who lost it all, it's important to know that by paying the taxes, hiring good financial advisors, and keeping away from bad investments and reckless spending, the chances of lottery winners going bankrupt diminish significantly.
What happens to lottery winners?
While some lottery winners continue with their everyday life, others end up bankrupt in only a few years. However, most lottery winners who win sums up to $2 million keep their wealth and live happy lives.
What are the biggest mistakes lottery winners make?
Going public with the win is one common reason for problems. Another is opting for the lump sum payment, which makes many lottery winners blow through their money. Also, consulting the wrong people instead of legitimate financial advisors, reckless spending and gambling are mentioned by many lottery winners who lost it all.
What is the biggest unclaimed lottery prize?
In 2011, a $77 million Powerball Jackpot went unclaimed, making it the biggest unclaimed lottery prize.