Ocean’s 16: the lottery curse redux

“The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory.”

-from George Orwell’s 1984

Last year, I wrote an article about the curse of the lottery.  I told you how random people go out, buy a $3 ticket, and wind up winning millions of dollars by chance.  Their lives are immediately changed.  The media hounds them nonstop.  Other random people constantly beg for a portion of their winnings.  Some strangers even cause physical harm on lottery winners.  These “winners” often end up with marital problems, and because they cannot handle the new-found fame and ludicrous amounts of money, they end up bankrupt.  It’s time for a redux of this issue.

Last year, the New Jersey coast was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy.  Thousands of homes were destroyed, families were displaced, and lives were forever changed.  In August of this year, a group of workers from a vehicle maintenance garage in Ocean County won a Powerball jackpot totalling $450 million.  Dubbed the “Ocean’s 16,” the group of winners were lauded as a heartwarming comeback story for the state of New Jersey.

The man who stole the show was Willie Seeley, a bedraggled man with a grayed, flowing beard reminiscent of members of the band ZZ Top.  At the press conference, he could not hide his utter happiness.  In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer the next day, he sat alongside his wife and gleefully said:  “We can do what we want.”  He stressed how he was going to continue watching NASCAR on TV and how he might build a new log cabin.

Just a month later, the smiles and hopes have turned sour.  “The drama is nonstop,” Willie said in his first interview after appearing on the Today show.  After the total $450 million prize was split among the 16 winners, Willie Seeley and his wife ended up with a cool $4 million.  They paid cash for new cars, renovated their storm-damaged house, and paid off the mortgage.  They helped family members with a college education and cancer rehabilitation.  And, Willie was able to buy his new log cabin.

However, the Seeleys have been hounded by the press.  The phone rings nonstop.  Long-lost relatives and unrelated beggars alike ask for money.  The National Enquirer even put Willie on its front cover.  It’s been so bad, Willie “pulled a .357 magnum on the last fellow who came walking up the driveway.”  His only relief is that some sad schmuck in South Carolina just won the latest Powerball jackpot of nearly $400 million, moving much of the press to its new unfortunate fetish.

Willie Seeley and his wife will never live a normal life again.  You would think this latest cautionary tale in an epic of sad stories would make some people end their jackpot fantasies.  Such is not the case.  North Carolina has recently amped up its advertising efforts to exploit the so-called “poor tax.”  A goofus clad in a tacky calendar costume is delighted to share how the North Carolina Education Lottery prints new scratch-off tickets on the first Tuesday of every month.  Lottery tickets across the country are now priced about the same as a gallon of gas or a pack of lunch meat.  People continue to spout the inane mantra, “You’ve gotta be in it to win it.”  In Willie Seeley’s case, he won it.  Now, he can’t get out of it.  He wants nothing more than to run away and disappear.  He wishes he could go back to the simple life of getting a paycheck every two weeks.  He wishes he could take a quiet fishing trip without someone begging him for money.

If you want to buy a lottery ticket, you can.  If you want to waste a few dollars each week on an outcome that has worse odds than getting struck by lightning, you certainly have the freedom to do so.  You also have the freedom to think your life will be changed for the better after you win millions of dollars.  If you are not looking forward to the ensuing whirlwind of media and money grubbers, however, put that money back in your pocket and save it for something that won’t have you wishing to disappear.

David Pilley

David Pilley

David Pilley is a May 2010 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a B.A. in communication studies and a creative writing minor. He is a native of Raleigh, North Carolina.

He played clarinet for the Marching Tar Heels in 2005 and 2006. He also volunteered for STV, the student-run television station at UNC-Chapel Hill, in the spring of 2010. He shot video, wrote scripts, and acted for “Off the Cuff,” UNC’s longest running sketch comedy show. He has the rare distinction of having lived in a dorm all four years of his undergraduate college career. He was also on Franklin Street on the night of April 4, 2009. His future plans are to pursue a master’s degree in journalism and to one day work for the media as a sports journalist or broadcaster.

Being one of eight children, David realizes finance is an important topic to everyone, regardless of his/her knowledge of the subject. His interests are in personal finance, budgeting, and savings.

In his spare time, David enjoys watching sports and standup comedy, as well as doing crossword puzzles and writing in the first person. He also thoroughly enjoys trivia and, one day, hopes to participate on the game show Jeopardy!, where he will try to break Ken Jennings’ 74-game win streak.
David Pilley

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