Winning the Jackpot -- A Matter of Life and Death

It can be argued that Abraham Shakespeare, David Edwards and Amanda Clayton had little in common besides winning the lottery. Along with diverse geographic differences, they were very different people with very different problems. And they are all dead. Long before their average life expectancy.
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"No matter how close to yours another's steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you'll do alone"
-- Jackson Browne

"There are ways of killing yourself without killing yourself." -- Tony Manero (John Travolta) in the movie Saturday Night Fever

It can be argued that Abraham Shakespeare, David Edwards and Amanda Clayton had little in common besides winning the lottery. Shakespeare lived in Florida, Edwards was from rural Kentucky and Clayton was from Detroit. Along with the diverse geographic differences, they were very different people with very different problems.

And they are all dead. Long before their average life expectancy.

There is no question that Shakespeare's public notoriety as a lottery winner played into his being targeted for murder. Clayton and Edwards had substance issues that contributed to their deaths and lottery income played into that out of control behavior.

In Edwards' case, his lottery money also seemed to play into the overdose death of some of his friends. His jackpot was the honey pot that spun addictions out of control.

Thus, could we have saved them from themselves and the others around them?

There are a couple of analogies that might be relevant.

My daughter, Angela Luhys, manages a very successful business called Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC.

(Disclaimer: I am the owner of a Limited Liability Corporation, which owns Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC and other holdings.)

Although Kentucky Guardianship Administrators was created to do high-powered technical work in areas like setting up conservatorships, qualified settlement funds and special needs trusts, where Angela has carved out a niche is helping people who receive large settlements deal with the transition from poverty to being a millionaire.

It's not an easy walk. Statistics show that 70 percent of people who get a lump sum will run through it five years and most of Angela's clients have a host of family, friends and "suitors" trying to get their hands on the money.

Although she is younger than most of her clients, Angela comes across as that older sister that they never had. Someone who cares about them and helps them get through the bumps in life.

People like Shakespeare and Clayton would have thrived with someone like Angela in their lives. Especially Shakespeare. Angela, who does not receive commission and is paid a salary, would have never let him get near someone like Dee Dee Moore.

Shakespeare was not a bad guy; he needed help in coping with the world. Someone like Angela might have made his lottery winning a successful trip, instead of one to the morgue.

David Edwards is a lot more complicated. He was a middle-aged guy with a criminal history, a history of drug abuse and a lot of problems. Even someone as good as Angela couldn't stop him.

The only system I see working for Edwards is one that allowed Josh Hamilton to break his string of nine trips to rehab and become a major league baseball superstar.

We call it the "adult babysitter."

Sports Illustrated did a great cover story about Josh Hamilton when he was with the Texas Rangers and his comeback from addiction.

According to the article, Josh had gone to the depths of hell, but found his way back. Redemption was a combination of Jesus, his wife, 12-step and his coach, Johnny Narron, who served as Josh's adult babysitter.

Narron is with Hamilton nearly 24 hours a day. He handles all Josh's money, including petty cash. He eats with Josh, prays with him, guards his hotel room and acts as a shield between Hamilton and temptation.

It's worked. Hamilton became one of the greatest players in baseball.

It is not practical to assign an adult babysitter to every hurting American. Few people have the talents of Josh Hamilton. Even fewer have an employer motivated to maximize those talents.

Lottery winners have the resources, but it would take someone that is very perceptive or going through a "bottoming out" stage of life to fully embrace something that allows such little individual freedom.

I have five steps for what to do when you win the lottery. None of them -- Shakespeare, Clayton or Edwards -- did ANY of the five principles.

I'm a huge believer in individual freedom. I fully embrace Benjamin Franklin's statement that "those who give up a little bit of liberty for a little bit of safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Thus, the five things I suggest that winners do are a unique combination of personal freedom and structure. They are designed to allow people to adjust to having a large amount of money and keep it for their lifetimes, but not turn the money over blindly to a third party.

I like my five points because I've seen them work. I know lottery winners who have their money and the only ones who aren't still breathing died of natural causes at an advanced age.

No one found them buried five feet under a slab of concrete.

There are a lot of things that can be done to protect lottery winners. Maureen Hayden of CNHI News Service recently did a story about a State Senator in Indiana who wants all lottery winners to be able to accept their money anonymously.

If it passes, they ought to call it the Abraham Shakespeare law.

If lotteries would offer a list of prescreened financial advisors who have worked with other lottery winners, that would be great.

I think people are crazy to take the lump sum over the annual payments, but I've heard as many as 98 percent do. If lotteries went away from offering the "cash option," that would make it less likely that people would blow their money and be sitting targets for greedy fortune hunters.

People like Shakespeare, Clayton and Edwards do a lot of free marketing for the state lottery associations. When someone hits the jackpot, it becomes a national and often worldwide story.

Even when horrible things happen to lottery winners and they die or run through their money, people operate with the impression that it would never happen if they won.

It will and it does. States need to step up and try to protect their own winners or at least give the winners some options and information.

What I don't want is to have the term Death By Lottery apply to another lottery winner in the future.

Don McNay is the author of the book, Death by Lottery, and is one of the world's foremost authorities on what to do when you win the lottery. He has written four bestselling books on the topic. He splits his time between Lexington Kentucky and New Orleans and can contacted at

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