Winners & Losers: Blowing Through a Million-Dollar Windfall

dollars flying
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We all have our moments of gambling degeneracy and financial carelessness. But it takes a lot to stumble into a $1 million lottery win and to have it all gone in just eight years.

Admittedly, some of the windfall evaporated out of the gate. The guy who won it, a North Carolina man identified only as Steven, maintained that the $1 million ticket somehow paid only $766,000 and a tax payment brought it down to $550,000.

Nevertheless, that is still a healthy sum of one-shot money.

In fact, 550K may be a perfect amount of money in that it’s not enough to make you financially independent – so you don’t quit your job and muck up your existence – and it can deliver a small annuity that makes life a little cushier.

But that is not the way of Steven, who told his tale on a finance-oriented program called the Ramsey Show.

“I gambled to buy the ticket, right?” he told the show host. “That never stopped.”

It reminded me of conversations I’ve had with professional gamblers about winning the World Series of Poker. I said that if I ever won, I’d salt away the payout and never play another hand of poker for the rest of my life.

The response to such a strategy? “That’s why you’ll never win the World Series of Poker.”

The point being that if you’re not a bit of a crazy gambler, one who’s got it so deeply in his DNA that he can’t resist risk, winning a major poker tournament is a mega longshot.

In fact, without possessing a certain degree of recklessness, banking money in a lot of gambling forms – at the tables, at online gambling sites and in life – will be tough to pull off.

The late comedian Norm Macdonald told me about winning $100,000 at craps, stashing the chips in his refrigerator, and slowly losing every one of those discs back to the gambling dens of Atlantic City. Put him on a heater, the thinking goes, and he could have won the WSOP – and gambled it all away soon after.

That brings us back to the hapless Steven.

Reckless sports betting, casino splurging and bit of freewheeling spending did him in, to the point that he has only $6,000 of the lottery win left.

Now, he’s trying to overcome his gambling jones. Never mind that embracing it may be the way for him to land another bundle. Yeah, it’s a bit of a vicious cycle.

Maybe Steven needs to commiserate with Jamie Gold.

In 2006 Gold won the richest World Series of Poker Main Event to date. The prize was $12 million.

Gold came in as an odds-on favorite to not win the tournament. At the outset, he resembled one of many no-names flushing away their $10,000 entry fees.

But that’s not what happened.

Gold emerged victorious through a combination of luck, cunning and tilt-inducing table talk. Like Steven, however, Gold did not keep the whole thing. He made a deal with a friend that they would split anything he won.

Gold was slow in forking over the half. Via lawsuit, $6 million was frozen. Gold and his friend settled and it’s unclear what the poker champ ended up with. But it was less than $12 million.

The rest of his money pretty much went the way of Steven’s windfall. He was suddenly a celebrity poker player and got invited to play in some of the world’s highest-stakes games. He couldn’t resist anteing up with the Phil Iveys and Doyle Brunsons of the world.

And they did what they are supposed to do: They took as much money off him as they possibly could.

Whether or not Gold went broke is unclear.

Widely reported, is that his World Series of Poker bracelet wound up being auctioned off. Embarrassing as that might have been, insult was added to injury when it became clear that he was not the one auctioning it off.

Somehow, the precious poker prize had fallen into the hands of a third party. That person sold it to an anonymous buyer for $65,000.

How did that all happen?

The normally loquacious Gold is said to have described the turn of events as a “legal matter that he was not allowed to discuss.”

Too bad he doesn’t write for New York magazine. Then maybe we would have the full story, as we do this week, from a writer who somehow gave away $50,000 in cash to a team of con artists.

Over a matter of hours, they convinced her that her identity had been compromised and that she and her family were in danger. In record time, she had the cash boxed up and dropped into the backseat of a Mercedes SUV with a mystery man behind the wheel.

She didn’t even need to go to a casino to blow her 50K.

In the article, she wondered, “How could I be such easy prey?”

If it’s any consolation, she should know that when large sums of money meet cagey opponents – con men, poker players, casinos – holding onto it can be harder than attaining it.

Michael Kaplan
Gambling Author and Journalist

Michael Kaplan is a journalist based in New York City joined Techopedia in November 2023. He is the author of five books ("The Advantage Players" comes out in 2024) and has worked for publications that include Wired, GQ and the New York Post. He has written extensively on technology, gambling and business — with a particular interest in spots where all three intersect. His article on Kelly "Baccarat Machine" Sun and Phil Ivey is in development as a feature film.