Pedro Quezada is another in a long line of awkward lottery winner stories

Pedro Quezada won $338 million in New Jersey’s Powerball last spring; now he’s in court because his ex-girlfriend (they broke up after the winning) wants a share of it. Probably the best line written about the Quezada situation is at the end of this article — “$20 million can’t be located.” Da hell? Assets were almost frozen in the case; ultimately, they weren’t. 

In a capitalist society, winning the lottery is a super interesting sociological study: you can essentially go from having next-to-nothing to having exactly what everyone wants — money. It can change people, and seemingly everyone has a view on how you should treat your family after winning. 

The Internet is littered with classic lottery winner stories, both good and bad. Katie Couric literally did an entire show about lottery winners. Complex has a listicle about the 10 worst lottery disaster stories; they also have an entire article about ‘The Curse of the Lotto.’ William ‘Bud’ Post III was so linked with lottery disaster that his obituary had it in the headline; Andrew Jackson Whittaker lost $545K in a strip club parking lot; and Alex Toth lost everything.

There are stories on the flip side, yes: Colin and Chris Weir bought a prosthetic limb for a cancer-stricken teen; Allen and Violet Large gave away basically all of it to charity; and Sheelah Ryan’s foundation helped people from all walks of life.

Winning the lottery can even lead to potential murder, as in the cases of Urooj Khan and Jeffrey Dampier.

Big question is: why does it all happen? And would it ever be possible to predict what lottery winners will become train wrecks, as opposed to which ones might use their winnings to benefit broader society in some way? Social science has done a lot of work on the notion of lottery winners, including questioning whether happiness is relative, examining myths and realities of winning the lottery, looking at the post-award work behavior of winners, discussing personal attitudes on redistribution in winners, and even comparing them to accident victims. CNN and Forbes have both discussed the happiness of lottery winners, too: here and here. 

Then there’s the Callie Rogers story; she spent all her winnings on drugs and partying, but is now ‘poor and happy.’

Does it make you happier? Probably not. In the grand scheme of things, it likely makes you less happy and more prone to poor decision-making just because of the amount of people that can emerge from the woodwork of your life; everyone, almost irregardless of culture in some ways, wants to feel loved and needed. A situation like winning the lottery could potentially make you forget who your ‘core’ people are, which could lead to questionable decision-making. I’d love to win the lottery, of course, but while seeing it as unrealistic is probably my first major impediment to thinking more deeply about it, the second major impediment is that I think I’d likely go off an emotional cliff and spend unwisely.

If you can stay grounded like Brad Duke, though, you might be able to turn $125 million into $2 billion. A lot of it — “it” being what happens to you — obviously resides with the person who won, their support network, their broader moral context, and their ability to be persuaded. There is some belief that more religious people — those inclined towards religion, that is — might fare better upon winning, but using religion to try and get the win is fairly dubious.

The Huffington Post has an entire tag devoted to lottery winners, where you can find all sorts of random content related to them and their pros and cons. (They’ve got more than a few articles about Richard Lustig.) You can also follow advice here and here if you find yourself coming into an excess of $100 million cash. (And to fill your heart with joy as you do so, read this article as well.)

Ted Bauer