Day 432: Hitting The Jackpot (Before It Hits Back)

originally published March 7, 2013

After yesterday’s tragic tale of lotto-mania gone bad, I needed to cleanse my perceptual palette. Is there good news to be found among the scant few lottery winners with the infamy required to earn a Wikipedia page? Are the only stories worth reading about filled with tragedy, back-stabbery and lawsuits? What I found was a mix of the disheartening and the uplifting, a stew of consequence defined by circumstance and character.

Despite my wallet’s commitment to porousness, I still believe I’d be able to successfully navigate the minefield of sudden wealth. My family (apart from a few wayward flakes – you know who you are) is strong and secure. I’ve made enough atrocious financial decisions to know one when I see one. I recycle. Not sure if that last one will help me, but I’m plugging for karma to give me a shot at proving my ability to handle a big lottery win.

I’d have to do better than Abraham Shakespeare. This guy’s story makes the Lavigueur family in yesterday’s article look like a happy ending. Abe was something of an underachiever, having done time for a few burglaries and hopping from labor job to labor job in Florida. When he struck the winning numbers in a $30 million Florida lottery in 2006, everything began to fall apart.

From the outside, it didn’t look like Abe was being reckless with his money. He bought a house in a gated community, a Nissan Altima and a Rolex from a pawn shop. His one big mistake was going into business with Dee Dee Moore. Abe went missing in 2009, and Dee Dee tried to make it look like she hadn’t killed him, even using Abe’s phone to respond to text messages from friends and family. One problem: Abraham Shakespeare was illiterate. It didn’t take long for people to get suspicious, and Dee Dee got 25-to-life for murder.

Oh, and if a guy whose last name is Shakespeare goes missing, that does not make it cool for newspapers to use “Wherefore Art Thou” in a headline to mean “Where Are You”. The ‘fore’ isn’t just there for decoration; it changes the damn meaning of the word. Just sayin’.

Then there’s Michael Carroll, who won £9.7 million in the National Lottery in England when he was only 19. He declared himself the ‘King of Chavs’ (which is a British slang term that closely resembles the North American term ‘douchebag’), and spent the entire thing on drugs, gambling and hookers.

One could argue that Carroll had a blast spending his money. But there’s no question that it was spent – it took just over seven years for him to declare bankruptcy and file for Jobseeker’s Allowance. I suspect Michael’s thirties are going to be a huge disappointment. I hope he makes it; he has attempted suicide twice already.

Is this it? Nothing but anguish and misery for the so-called fortunate? Well, not quite.

First there’s Yodtong Senanan, who had been a prominent Muay Thai fighter since he was fourteen, back in 1951. Yodtong made a name for himself long before the lottery graced his bank account with 56 million baht worth of good karma. He became a Muay Thai trainer, and personally produced 57 Muay Thai champions (the most in Thailand’s history), as well as dozens of quality trainers.

Yodtong’s lottery win occurred in November of 2005, when he was 68 years old. 56 million baht works out to about 1.8 million US dollars in today’s currency, so it wasn’t a Powerball win, but still a great score. Yodtong kept ten million for himself, and donated the other 46 million to local social causes. He passed away just last month, but it’s nice to have a reminder that sometimes the good guys win the big money.

Thomas Henderson was a Dallas Cowboy during the team’s first glorious era, heading to three Super Bowls as a starting linebacker and once sharing a TIME magazinecover with Terry Bradshaw. He’s the guy who inspired Lawrence Taylor, the greatest linebacker to ever play the position, to wear number 56. But a cocaine problem derailed his career, and by 1981 he was out of football. Thomas got clean in 1983, after his arrest for smoking cocaine with two teenage girls and allegedly sexually assaulting them. Don’t worry, the story gets better.

In 2000, Henderson won a $28 million Lotto Texas jackpot. This could have been a fantastic way to kick-start a wild cocaine binge, but Henderson had grown up. He started a charity and donated a crap-ton of goods to help rebuild the East Austin community where he grew up. He continues to speak publicly and distribute videos of his anti-drug seminars. He has used his winnings to make the world a better place. Makes me a little proud to have been a fan.

Jawdat Ibrahim is also trying to improve the world around him. An Israeli-Arab who lived for six years in Chicago, Ibrahim hit the $17.5 million Illinois State Lottery jackpot in 1993. Unfortunately for the good people of Illinois, Ibrahim opted not to stick around and re-inject his lottery winnings into the Illinois economy. Instead he jetted off to a town called Abu Ghosh, an Arab Israeli town just six miles west of Jerusalem. He opened up a restaurant and settled down.

As an Israeli-Arab, Ibrahim has a particular perspective on the conflicts in that part of the world that most likely eludes a lot of folks in the region. He therefore made it his mission to do right by both sides, setting up a fund that give scholarships to both Arabs and Jews in university. When asked why he’d set up a fund for Jews to attend university (there are already a number of those), he replied that he was hoping some Jewish organizations would respond by giving money to Arab students.

During the 2002 World Cup, Ibrahim set up a big-screen TV in a tent outside his restaurant, and took out ads in the Israeli and Palestinian press, inviting anyone and everyone to join him in watching the event. His restaurant has also hosted a number of informal peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders. They come for the hummus and stay for the hope of finding peace.

I’m pretty certain that, should the fates be kind enough to bestow a sudden fortune upon me, I’d be more Jawdat Ibrahim and less Abraham Shakespeare. I’d sure as hell love to find out.

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