Tag Archives: powerball

What to Do When You’ve Won Powerball

You’ve compared the numbers on your multistate lottery ticket to the ones on your TV screen and they all match. You’ve also thoroughly checked your immediate environment for concealed phones, GoPro cameras, or other evidence that a friend or coworker was OK with the idea of trading away your dignity for 8,900 YouTube views.

It’s real; you’ve won 1.5 billion dollars. Now what do you do?

Your first question is “Should I pee myself, or crap my pants?” Do both, just to be safe. Once word gets out that you have $1.5 billion, you’re going to be set upon by mooching friends and distant relatives. Some of these might be put off by one form of effluvia, but not the other, and there’s no way to tell ahead of time.

Next, you’re going to want to think about receiving the lump sum payment versus the annuity. There’s no one clear answer. The annuity offers a greater payout and a lesser total tax burden, while the lump sum has advantages if you’re capable of putting together and maintaining a longterm investment plan on your own.

If you’re undecided, consider the advantages of each option that are specific to your lifestyle.

Lump Sum: You’ll have enough on hand to stage a mid-air collision between seven or eight brand-new robot-piloted Boeing 777s, not just two. When you fill your new pond with money, you don’t have to worry about the embarrassment and inevitable ribbing that ensues when your college chums’ Jetskis churn up some twenties and fifties among the bundles of hundreds at the surface. People with a net worth in the mere eight figures can walk around pantsless without risk of arrest, but actual billionaires can ditch the underwear as well. “Hamilton” tickets are a realistic get.

Annuity: your friends and relatives will accept that there’s no point in having you killed until thirty years after you’ve won. The annuity is also a good idea if you’re an immortal and keep having to “die” and come back as your own “son” or “daughter.” Any unused money at the end of the year can be burned for heat, as well as to spite the street urchins freezing just outside your window. The envy and irrational hatred dished out against you by everyone in your community is likely to arrive in smaller, more manageable installments over time. It’s also likely that your winnings will still out there waiting for you after you serve your nine-year prison sentence for that thing you did when you falsely believed that having a mere tens of millions of dollars meant you could buy your way out of anything.

Either way, it’s wise to take the $930,000,000 lump-sum or $50,000,000 first installment in the form of loose change. Potential thieves will be intimidated by the thought of rolling all of those coins for a bank deposit or hauling them to a Coinstar machine and feeding them in a handful at a time.

Don’t be stupid and try to double your winnings shooting craps at a casino. The house advantage is much lower at the blackjack tables.

All of these financial considerations will work themselves out over time. You’ll be intimidated at first, but you’ll eventually understand the subtleties of large-scale transactions and dealmaking. For instance, when NASA rejects your astronaut application because you never even made it to 11th grade and you scrawled “I can never pee if I know that Canadians are nearby” on the form, that’s just negotiation code for “honey, it’s going to cost you.”

Do share your windfall with friends and family. But don’t make commitments until you’ve carefully considered the nature of your relationships and how these people would react to a windfall. If you leave a relative a million dollars in your will, that means you won’t be around to gloat when they’ve blown it all inside of twenty months and all they’re left with is an upper body filled with impulsive, regrettable tattoos and three giraffes with no means of support. However, you will get to dangle that carrot just out of their grasp and keep jerking them around for anywhere from five to fifty years.

By the same token, don’t assume that your new circle of super-rich friends are any different from your old ones. Be on guard with Oprah. It’ll be light and cheerful conversation around her bumper pool table all evening and then she’s definitely going to try to sell you a Weight Watchers membership. Also, don’t trust the odometer reading on any old car that Jay Leno tries to sell you.

Above all: don’t let the money change who you are. Promise yourself that the only difference between Middle Class You and Obscenely Wealthy You is going to be that you’ll be chasing down and running over neighborhood squirrels in a much fancier car.

Yes, you can be a billionaire and still be a selfish, arrogant bastard with no regard for the feelings or needs of others. Network with people at political fundraisers for guidance. 

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

Yup! Powerball will be at 1.3 billion dollars by Wednesday’s drawing. At least 1.3 billion dollars. I’ve always thought of the two contrary truths of big lotteries like this one:

  1. The fact that it’s a nationwide lottery with an insane, even unprecedented level of frenzied participation, and yet it still can take months and months for even a single person to pick the right numbers, proves how impossible the odds are;
  2. And yet, well…someone does eventually win.

But if you could win any one lottery, would you really choose to win $1.3 billion?

That’s definitely a dollar amount where winning would become terrifying. If you were to win a lesser amount that was life-changing, but still well below what even a dope you or me could squander away, you could choose to remain anonymous and make it stick. The only people who’d know would be your closest friends. And only the observant ones. “Hmm. Andy never used to order guac on his burrito. That’s, like, a $2.50 upcharge” would be the first loose thread that would unravel my thick cloak of lies.

But if you were the lone (it’s possible) winner of a $1.3 billion jackpot? Oh, ****. You’d need to go straight into hiding before anyone identified you. And the media would be working very very hard to identify you. So: close all of the curtains, lock every door and window, leave your car in the driveway, and check into a hotel in a different city. And take public transportation, in case an Uber driver might fink you out.

I’m feeling a little stressed out just thinking about it. My losing ticket from Saturday’s drawing is in my wallet. It’s a piece of paper a few inches on a side. Imagine that it’s worth $1.4 billion. Is there any article of value that’s worth that much per gram? I’m betting “no,” unless a lock of Jesus Christ’s hair is ever found and verified. How the hell do you transport it safely to that place where men and women in suits turn it into a pile of electrons in a secure database that tells every computer in the world that Mr. Ihnatko is allowed to have whatever he wants, the instant he wants it, and served off the back of any human being he wishes to use as a living piece of furniture?

And until that transaction, yeesh. Stay invisible. Let those hundreds of Coen Brothers-style losers, idiots, and genuine tough guys hack apart your front door with an axe and tear the place apart, because obviously you would have left the winning ticket, unsigned, on your kitchen table. Throw away the hat and the coat you wore when you bought it, because until the prize has been officially claimed, every man or woman wearing a Boston Bruins cap and a leather jacket like the one in the jittery security video that your local gas station happily sold to TMZ is going to get tackled in the street by the aforementioned group of people.

It is a legitimately interesting question. What’s the smartest way to claim the prize? The safest thing would be to race to lottery headquarters and claim the money while you’re still a step ahead of rabid packs of press and ne’er-do-wells. Fine, but then isn’t your name part of the public record? Isn’t it better to form a new LLC and use it as the official claimant?

Good plan! But who’s going to help you do that, and do you understand the paperwork you’re signing? Are you sure that you didn’t initial something that gives your lawyer the power to buy you out of your own company for half a pack of Mike and Ikes?

Oy!

Of course, the troubles don’t end once you’ve claimed the money. Having that much money is like being Superman. You have the power to save anybody. But if you try to save everybody, well, that’s impossible, and will probably shorten your own life. It’s easy to say no to the fan group who wants $7.4 million dollars to fund a new season of “Heroes” (which you never liked in the first place). But what do you say to the parent who needs $180,000 for life-saving surgery for their kid?

I also imagine that it’d be a good idea to maintain a “decoy” house in addition to your actual home. You’d stock it with mid-priced furniture and electronics, and replenish it every time it gets broken into. Meanwhile, your actual home is hidden behind three shell corporations. Plus a couple of moats with interesting creatures swimming around in it (thanks to the Weyland-Yutani-style genetic engineering lab you’re underwriting).

Nonetheless, I think all of the hassles would be worth it, if winning I can (a) pay off all of my nieces and nephews’ student loans, and (b) own a private aircraft hangar with a 1:1 scale replica of the Millennium Falcon in it.

Also? It’d be fun to be Superman. Rather, it’d be fun to be Clark Kent and nobody knows you’re Superman. We’re sometimes saddled with terrible secrets (“Your cat didn’t run away. She got caught in a raccoon trap I set in my backyard. There was already a raccoon in it. They obviously didn’t get along…”). Wouldn’t it be fun to keep a terrific secret? The kind of secret that only gets blown at the reading of your will, when your cousin shows up expecting that you maybe left her your grandmother’s bible but then she walk out of there with that plus a five-cabin catamaran? 

So, sure, I’m going to buy another ticket for Wednesday’s drawing. I joked on Twitter that the $1.3 billion jackpot was my one lifetime opportunity to truly say “There’s a nonzero chance that I will some day have more money than Oprah.” Then someone pointed out that (according to Forbes) the woman has a net worth of about $3.1 billion.

Okay…more money than Jerry Seinfeld?

There we go. $820,000,000. That’s still enough for “Hamilton” tickets.

I don’t approve of state-run gambling. I hate the fact that so much of it is designed specifically to exploit a certain percentage of people whose brains happen to be wired up badly and can be tricked into an infinite loop of electronic betting. I double-hate that governments become dependent on gambling revenues to fund education, instead of using that contribution as a bonus on top of a sensible operational budget that schools will get regardless. It means that we can’t give kids a public education unless we allow casinos to do pretty much whatever they like, and we keep tuning state lottery games to get better and better at lulling players into a fugue state.

Okay, rant over. I don’t gamble, personally, because God has made His/Her/Its feelings quite clear to me about that. The first time I gambled, it was at a Las Vegas night during my freshman year of college. I lost four dollars on four plays in a blink of an eye. Just: one, two, three, four…done. I recall a crystal-clear awareness that I had given this person four dollars, I had received nothing in return, not even entertainment…and I now felt like an idiot.

Years later, I was speaking at a conference center that was part of a casino. I wandered into the blackjack room. On a whim, I think I played one hand, on a five dollar chip. The dealer dealt himself a blackjack. Just like that. I don’t think I got the chance to say “Hit” or “Stay” even once.

“Thy will be done,” I thought, and I kept my second $5 chip as a souvenir.

Despite all of that, I have a rule: when a multi-state lottery jackpot can credibly be expressed as a fraction of a billion dollars…sure, I’m in for a $2 ticket. I’m getting something of value: the fun of knowing that there’s an astronomically far-fetched, but nonzero, chance of having a life-altering amount of money by this time next week.

Guac on every burrito, going to a drive-in screening of the original Star Wars trilogy in a working X-34 landspeeder…it sounds pretty sweet all around, despite the hassles of nonstop home breakins, lawsuits from con artists, and kidnap/ransoms.