On June 7, 2023

Chances are…


Evelyn Adams loved playing the lottery and dreaming about the day she might finally win big. Initially she spent $25 a week on tickets, but over the years her growing passion to play drove her spending to over $100 a week, hinting at the first signs of a burgeoning gambling problem. 

Adams was in no position to spend this kind of money given that she was a single, middle-aged woman working at a small convenience store in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. But then one day in October 1985, everything changed. Her investment in the New Jersey Lottery finally paid dividends when she won the grand prize of $3.9 million. 

Winning the lottery is one of the most exciting things that can happen to a person, so imagine how Adams felt four months later when she won again, this time taking home the $1.4 million jackpot.

The odds of Adams winning her first jackpot were 1 in 3.2 million, while the odds of her winning the second jackpot were 1 in 5.2 million. The odds for winning both are nearly incalculable. Unfortunately, the $5.3 million turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing. 

Instead of managing her newfound wealth responsibly, Adams squandered the money on extravagant purchases, frequently exotic vacations, and excessive gambling. She also faced financial misfortune due to lending money to friends and family members who failed to repay. Her generosity coupled with poor financial decisions quickly depleted her lottery fortune.

Adams eventually wound up in financial ruin, unable to sustain her lavish lifestyle and mounting debts. She was forced to sell her house and relocate to a cramped trailer where she became dependent on state aid to survive.

Her story serves as a cautionary reminder that even significant lottery winnings can vanish if not managed wisely.

And Adams is not alone in her experience.

Another notable case is that of Jack Whittaker, a West Virginia businessman who won a $315 million Powerball jackpot in 2002. While winning such a large sum of money would typically be seen as a dream come true, Whittaker’s life took a turn for the worse after his win. 

Shortly after winning, Whittaker faced a series of personal and financial difficulties. He experienced numerous incidents of theft and robbery, with criminals targeting him due to his newfound wealth. On one occasion at a strip club, thieves broke into his custom Lamborghini and stole over a half a million dollars in cash.

Whittaker’s granddaughter, whom he lavished with his new-found wealth, also faced legal troubles and tragically passed away due to a drug overdose.

Whittaker’s financial mismanagement and excessive spending further contributed to his downfall. He made impulsive decisions and faced multiple  lawsuits and legal issues. He also faced allegations of assault and was involved in various controversies with women and the media. The attention surrounding his lavish lifestyle and personal struggles eventually took a toll on him.

Ultimately, Whittaker expressed regret about winning the lottery, stating that it had brought more negative experiences than positive ones. He died in 2020 with much of his fortune diminished.

The Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards says nearly one-third of lottery winners eventually declare bankruptcy. They also state that lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years of their winnings than the average American. 

One common thread that most lottery winners face is how their friends and family prey upon them after they’ve won. It’s hard to imagine the stress and distrust inherent in such situations, but the broken hearts probably cause the majority of the pain.

Stress and heartbreak are central themes in this week’s feature, “To Leslie,” starring 2022 Academy Award nominee Andrea Riseborough. Riseborough portrays a single woman who is seven years removed from winning the lottery, having foolishly squandered the money and now facing homelessness. 

This is a harsh film to watch, but the performance of Riseborough propels the story with such depth and sentiment that the viewer is left struggling with her.

Check this one out if you’re in the mood for an Oscar-worthy performance tucked inside a gripping portrayal of a woman trying to survive in a world hell-bent on crushing her.

A priceless “B+” for “To Leslie,” now available for streaming on Netflix. 

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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