November 28, 2012

Big winners share lessons, risks of Powerball win

Lottery agencies are keen to show off beaming prize-winners at news conferences, but the tales of big lottery winners who wind up in financial ruin, despair or both are increasingly common.

Alan Scher Zagier / The Associated Press

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Maria Diaz, right, sells a customer Powerball tickets at a local supermarket in Hialeah, Fla., on Tuesday. There has been no Powerball winner since Oct. 6, and the jackpot already has climbed to more than $500 million, the second-highest jackpot in lottery history, behind only the $656 million Mega Millions prize in March.

AP

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But most of his winnings are invested, and the 59-year-old still lives in his native Lincoln. He waited for several years before buying a $450,000 home in a tidy neighborhood on the southern edge of town.

"My roots are in Nebraska, and I'm not all that much different now than I was before," Gehle said. "I'm pretty normal. I never was the kind of guy who went for big, expensive cars or anything like that. I just want something that runs."

In the first year after he won, Michael Terpstra would awaken many nights in a panic. Had he slept in? Was he late to work the night shift?

"At times I'd wake up and this would all seem like a dream," the 54-year-old said. "I'd have to walk around the house and tell myself, I did win. I'm not working anymore, and I do live here. I didn't get drunk, break into someone's house and go to sleep. This is where I'm supposed to be."

His new home is a roomy, two-story house in south Lincoln with a big-screen television and paintings of Jesus on the walls. He no longer uses alarm clocks and spends his days taking his 92-pound black lab, Rocco, on walks.

He was terrified when he first won, convinced that he would lose all of the money and have to return to work. So he lives carefully off the interest from conservative investments, with help from accountants and lawyers. He bought the new house and a truck, but struggles to name any extravagant purchases.

"I can't buy a super yacht. I can't buy a Gulfstream," he said. "Then again, I don't think I'd use either one, so why would I buy one?"

That said, some mega-winners still can't resist the lure of big jackpots, at least not the two-buck chances. On Tuesday, former ConAgra worker Dung Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant, walked into the same Lincoln U-Stop where he purchased the winning ticket six years ago and bought 22 more from the very employee who sold him the first prize-winner, said cashier Janice Mitzner.

"We joked about it," she said. "I told him, 'Wouldn't it be something if you won again?'"

Hayes is also hoping to strike rich again — she bought 10 tickets at a Dirt Cheap liquor store on her way home Tuesday while speaking with an Associated Press reporter. Unlike many big winners, she has kept a visible public profile instead of going underground, appearing on a 2007 reality TV show ("Million Dollar Christmas"), writing an online Life After the Lottery blog and self-publishing a short book, "How Winning the Lottery Changed My Life."

"We have this drawing tomorrow, and if somebody wins, God bless them," she said. "They're going to need those blessings."

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