I’m Relieved I Didn’t Win the Billion-dollar Mega Millions Jackpot
By Bruce Frassinelli Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I would call in my executive assistant, give him a brief moralizing lecture as a prelude to the identity of the unsuspecting person who would be receiving an anonymous tax-free cashier’s check for $1 million from me.
Many of us have dreams of coming into untold riches, but, of course, for all but a fortunate few, it all remains just that — a fantasy.
And now, let’s admit it: $1 million is chump change compared to what a Mega Millions lottery ticket holder from Florida is holding after the Aug. 8 drawing.
This person won the largest Mega Millions jackpot of $1.58 billion. Of course, if the winner did as most and takes the lump-sum option, the amount drops to “only’’ $783.3 million.
The larger amount is if the winner had opted to take an annuity in 19 equal payments. The first reckoning for the winner from his or her lump-sum windfall is to pay a federal withholding tax of 24%, which drops the amount to $595.3 million.
It brings back memories of the 2010 recording by Bruno Mars, who yearned:
“I wanna be a billionaire so f—— bad,
Buy all of the things I never had.
Uh, I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine,
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen…’’
Unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably aware that we went through another period of lottery jackpot mania when both the Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots topped $1 billion each, causing us Americans to shell out more money than we even normally do attempting to grab the brass ring and salivating about how winning such a stunning amount would forever change our lives.
A friend of mine in Constantia even makes a list of all that he would buy, donate and do if he defied the 303 million-to-1 odds and hit the Mega Millions jackpot or the 292 million- to-1 odds to nail the Powerball fortune.
Along with the Mega Millions winner, someone from California, who has still not come forward (as of mid-August), won the Powerball jackpot of $1.08 billion 19 days earlier, on July 20.
Back in April of this year, Johnny Taylor, 71, of Howard Beach in Queens won the $483 million Mega Millions jackpot, which resulted in a $257 million cash option, but that was reduced to $157 million after state and federal withholding taxes were taken out.
Still, that’s not too shabby.
That ticket was sold at the Liberty Beer and Convenience store in Ozone Park. This one was the 13th largest jackpot in Mega Millions history and the biggest win in New York state since the Mega Millions drawings began in 1996 and is played in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Its cousin, Powerball, started in 1988 as Lotto America, and it is offered in all of the states and the Virgin Islands but not Puerto Rico.
Taylor, who had recently retired from his job as a building handyman in Manhattan, got a new car and wants to travel and buy a new home. He also has made generous donations to his church.
Some more modest winners from our region this year included: Albert Kiss of Old Forge, Herkimer County, $5,000 a week for life, who took the guaranteed payment of $2.3 million, and Lori Sardella of Chittenango, Madison County, and Deborah Cross of Marathon, Cortland County, both $1 million each.
I rarely play the lottery, but as many in our area, I make an exception when the jackpot really gets up there, so I was in for the most recent Mega Million drawings. That’s right, I laid out 6 of my hard-earned dollars for a shot at a billion dollars-plus. In those three drawings, just one of my numbers came up once, so I had nothing to show for my $6 investment except several hours of heightened anticipation followed by next-day disappointments when I compared my numbers to the winning numbers. I did not play in the next drawing after the jackpot was won, because the top prize had reset to a paltry $20 million. I mean why bother.
I was doing some research on big lottery winners, and I found that life is not always a bed of roses when you suddenly come into that kind of money, so then I changed my thinking and decided that I was fortunate — even relieved —- that I didn’t win.
Lottery winners face a variety of personal and financial challenges that can significantly change their lives — and not always for the better. Some winners even end up going broke after winning millions.
My late wife’s grandmother would always say “money makes the blind see,’’ and after reading some of these lottery winners’ horror stories, I can understand why. Money can make people do some ugly things. What’s that old saying? “Money is the root of all evil.’’ Hmm.
Personal relationships among spouses might sour and turn contentious over how the winnings are to be spent. The wife wants her Uncle Joe to have $10,000, but the husband, who hates Joe, refuses. Some have even split up and divorced after these bitter arguments.
Some lottery winners tell stories of how long lost relatives came out of the woodwork and tried to become their new best friends forever after ghosting them for decades.
I was amazed to learn that some family members and friends felt the lottery winner had a “duty’’ to give them a slice of the wealth pie. I thought about that for a moment. If I had won the Mega Millions jackpot, where would I have drawn the line with the generosity of my new-found wealth, and how many would I have alienated by my decisions?
Would the servers at my favorite bagel place expect a much bigger tip than the 20% I normally give? Would my parish priest be salivating about the possibility of a sizable gift to fund a needed church project? If I gave my three children and two stepchildren $100,000 each, would they be disappointed and call me a cheapskate thinking that it should have been at least a million each? Would my neighbors expect a neighborly stipend as a good-will gesture for the privilege of living next to them? Would I be badgered to make contributions to every cause that came down the pike? Would I become scammers’ new favorite target? I also must not forget that Uncle Sam will have his sizable hand stretched out for a big tax bite.
Some people who suddenly become super wealthy just can’t handle it. Time magazine reported that Billie Bob Harrell of Texas squandered his $31 million jackpot by giving handouts to friends and family members and made poor financial choices, all of which led him to commit suicide.
Lottery winners often lack the financial knowledge and discipline to handle large sums of money. They go on spending sprees and buy Ferraris, mansions and fancy jewelry.
Most admitted that a big lottery win is a life-changer, but warn not to forget the cons alongside of the pros. It is hard to believe that some go broke after coming into all of that prize money.
But after all is said and done, I am sure most of us would like to have $1 billion (or what’s left of it after taxes) sent our way, and we would do our best to make a go of it.
Certainly life would be different, but in my case one thing would not change: I would continue writing columns for 55 PLUS. Wait a minute! Come to think of it, I could even buy 55 PLUS.
Editor’s Note: Columnist Bruce Frassinelli died peacefully on Wednesday, Sept. 6, at age 84. This column was filed just days before his death. It’s his last.