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Lottery's biggest losers: Big wins don't equal better lives

 

As Americans gobble up tickets for a chance to win Friday's record $540 million Mega Millions jackpot, cautionary rags-to-riches tales abound.

The lucky winner, as of Thursday, stands to win a lump sum of $389 million before taxes using the cash option. Annuity payments over the course of 26 years will amount to just over $20.7 million before Uncle Sam gets a cut.

But winning the Big One isn't a guaranteed ticket to the good life, as these previous winners can attest:

-Jack Whittaker: This West Virginia businessman won $315 million in the Powerball lottery in 2002, the largest jackpot ever from a single ticket in American history at the time. After being robbed of $545,000 in cash while at a strip club, Whittaker's granddaughter and daughter were later found dead, and Whittaker was sued by Caesars Atlantic City casino for bouncing $1.5 million worth of checks to cover gambling losses.

-Juan Rodriguez: This New York City parking attendant was earning less than $30,000 in 2004 when he won $149 million in a Mega Millions drawing. But soon after taking the lump sum option of $88 million, his wife filed for divorce and was awarded half of his winnings.

-Fred Topous, Jr.: Topous won $57 million, the seventh-largest jackpot in Michigan state history in June 2008, but eventually took a $33 million lump sum. The convicted sex offender, who was released from prison in 2006, needs to register as a sex offender until 2024.

-Billy Bob Harrell, Jr.: This preacher working as a stockboy at Home Depot struck it rich in 1997, winning $31 million in Texas' lottery. Some 20 months later, after divorcing his wife and buying a half-dozen homes for relatives, he committed suicide using a shotgun.

-Jeffrey Dampier: In 1996, Dampier and his wife won $20 million in Illinois' lottery and used the money to buy relatives homes and to start a gourmet popcorn shop in Florida. Nine years later, Dampier was kidnapped and killed by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend who targeted him for money.

Meanwhile, a man who has won seven lottery drawings told the New York Post that aspiring millionaires shouldn't "go crazy" if they want to win the big jackpot.

"Go and buy tickets, but the most important thing I’m telling people to do is don’t go crazy,” Richard Lustig, 61, told the newspaper.

Lustig, citing the long odds of 1-in-176 million, urged those with lottery fever to keep their cool.

“This is the biggest prize in history, and people are going to go out and buy a lot of tickets, and almost all of them -- millions of people -- are going to lose, so don’t spend the grocery money or the rent money,” he said. “You have to buy tickets to win, and the more you buy the better your chances, but don’t go crazy."

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