People Are Crazy

A lottery brings out the worst in a small town.

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A truly bizarre, if sad, story in the Washington Post (“Powerball mystery: Someone in this tiny town won $731 million. Now everyone wants a piece of it.“):

The fact that someone in this town of 1,200 people (just 400 families, actually, down by half over the past 50 years) is suddenly Midas-rich has caused some strange things to happen.

An anonymous letter circulated naming a 76-year-old grandfather of seven and his longtime partner as the winners. Besieged with requests for free money, they denied being sudden multimillionaires.

Gold diggers poured into town. People showed up from Georgia and Ohio and Arkansas, asking for a piece of the prize to care for an ailing relative, or to save their struggling farm, or to pay for that European trip they’ve yearned to take.

A woman in Georgia wrote to the owner of Coney Market asking him to buy her a couple of chain saws for her farm. Another supplicant wanted a piece of the lottery winnings to get her driveway paved.

[…]

A man from Northern Virginia showed up to ask Ravenscroft to reissue a purportedly winning lottery ticket that the man had lost. The man stayed in the shop for an entire day, and state police had to stop by to make sure things didn’t get too crazy.

It’s not just outsiders making a fuss about the big money. People up and down Main Street are eager — “some are pretty impatient about it,” says Debbie Bennett, Coney Market’s manager — for the winner to donate a pile of cash to improve life in a town where the poverty rate of 24 percent is more than double the statewide number.

[…]

But the first thing on most minds is the simplest question of all: Who won? The golden ticket was purchased in January, and the winner — winners, actually; it’s a group of unknown size that calls itself the “Power Pack” — claimed the award in late May. (The $731 million will end up being $367 million because the winners chose a lump-sum payment rather than 30 years of installments, plus the feds and the state take a hefty share as taxes.)

By now, many people think there ought to be some sign that someone has come into a substantial chunk of change.

[…]

“We think it’s the person who keeps saying that’s not who it is,” said Bennett, the market manager. “If it’s who people think it is, they’ve had a lot of visitors on their property lately. They’ve been going around different places, casinos, spending money at Rocky Gap and Nemacolin.”

Some people say they’ve noticed a new car or two at one house or another. Some people point to someone who’s spruced up the front of the house. Some people profess not to care, but they seem to be outnumbered by people who say they know for sure who won.

Honestly, I’d be looking for someone with a moving truck.

FILED UNDER: Society
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    Indiana requires you to have your picture taken when you claim your winnings, which is then published on the state’s lotto website. This can cause issues, as this article highlights.

    An acquaintance won a relatively small prize (under $10M, the poor guy). He dyed his hair and beard pinkish red if I recall correctly, and bought thick rimmed glasses to disguise his appearance.

    Then they handed him the giant prop check, and in a stroke of genius he held it over his face as they snapped the picture.

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    A tale told by lottery winners since the beginning of time, or at least the start of the Irish Sweepstakes. After the beggars will come the scam artists and if the winner has little experience with managing even a regularly contributed to retirement account, they’ll be lost and possibly finding themselves in the hands of some scheming friend of a friend or nephew of a friend.

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  3. Teve says:

    When I did taxes for a few years I met two people who’d won million-dollar lottery amounts.

    1) Middle-aged Black couple. They paid off their house, bought a nice car, invested the rest. They owed some taxes, but nothing major.

    2) 27-yro white short order cook. He bought his momma a house, himself a giant fully loaded truck, motorcycles for all his friends, etc. Less than two years after winning, he owed the IRS $60,000, and when I told him the news, he said,”…I…I don’t have it.” and took his paperwork and walked out the door, with the most anxious and depressed facial expression you’ve ever seen in your life. He is still a short-order cook.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Honestly, I’d be looking for someone with a moving truck.

    With that kind of money, you don’t need a moving truck. A person can just abandon all one’s worldly possessions and be just fine.

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  5. Jen says:

    I read that story yesterday, and it depressed me. Everyone with their hands out (not just the locals–I mean getting letters DEMANDING help).

    We had a local winner of a huge jackpot ($487 million), but they were smart about it. In NH, you can claim the winnings through a trust, but only if you *don’t* sign the back of the ticket with your name (it has to be the name of the trust). Whomever won (our town has around 5,000 people, and the neighboring town is slightly larger) has managed to remain anonymous as far as I know.

    The entitlement that comes through in the WaPo piece is just astonishing.

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  6. Kathy says:

    How about a lottery no one wants to win?

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  7. dazedandconfused says:

    I would bet the house that a poll to sound out that town’s general opinion of socialism would be strongly and vociferously negative, outraged at the mere suggestion they might approve of that in any way.
    At any rate, if “Power Pac” wants to continue to live in that town they would be well advised to send every household in it maybe $80k, ideally before their names become known, and their names will be known. What is wealth if everybody you meet hates your guts?

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  8. Mr. Prosser says:

    I saw the headline at WAPO but didn’t read the article. It did remind me of a good Irish movie that played on cable about ten years ago titled “Waking Ned Devine” about a small village where someone won a sweepstakes but no one knows who.

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  9. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Nobody wanted to win Shirley Jackson’s lottery, either.

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  10. inhumans99 says:

    The situation in that town is almost Twilight Zoneish, folks see a porchlight being turned on/off but the only person around are that strange guy sitting in a rocking chair across the street so it must be him doing something weird to make the lights go on/off, he is the other to be feared. It has been too long since I saw that episode but I actually thought of it when I read this story.

    The suggestion to cut the town a check might not be the worst suggestion to help the winners be able to move on with their life and enjoy their windfall. The group of winners needs to figure out a way to create a Charity org., something that they can use to try to write off the expense of cutting everyone in the town a check for say 40-80k per person. Sure, you lose several million but you keep a lot more and have peace of mind that you do not have to look over your shoulder every time you are in public. Now, the odds of the winners cutting everyone a check are slim, and there is no special reason why the winners should have to do this, but yeah…they just might be thinking of trying to quietly move in the middle of the night and be done with the insanity.

    If the past four years taught us anything, it is that there is a startling number of folks who feel they are entitled to what they want if the just make enough of a stink about it, this instant gratification mindset. It is real problem in America, both in the Social and Political spheres.

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  11. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kathy:

    How about a lottery no one wants to win?

    That’s just a rehashing of the play “The Lottery”.

    Oh… and now I see that CSK beat me to it.

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  12. SC_Birdflyte says:

    And, of course, every lottery commercial I’ve seen includes “Play responsibly” (or some variant thereof), but never a warning: “If you win the jackpot, expect your life to turn into a living hell.” How about a much-lower limit on what folks can expect to win, and if no one hits all 6 numbers (or whatever the winning scheme), the contest periodically distributes lesser shares to a suitable number of contestants (such as everyone who got 5 numbers right, or 4, or perhaps even 3)?

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  13. Kathy says:

    @CSK:
    @Mu Yixiao:

    I’d rather spoil “Sliders.”

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  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Jen:

    We had a local winner of a huge jackpot ($487 million), but they were smart about it. In NH, you can claim the winnings through a trust, but only if you *don’t* sign the back of the ticket with your name (it has to be the name of the trust). Whomever won (our town has around 5,000 people, and the neighboring town is slightly larger) has managed to remain anonymous as far as I know.

    From what I read recently, some states tried to foil the trust thing by requiring the trust claiming the ticket to reveal where it got the ticket from and where it is distributing the money to, so the “state of the art” actually involves three trusts. Trust A exists only to give the ticket to Trust B, which actually claims the prize and then gives all the money to Trust C, so that Trust B can report it got the ticket from Trust A and gave all the money to Trust C. The down side is that means that the corporate taxes on the winnings have to be paid three times, and then income tax when it finally gets to you.

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  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    I’m reminded of the P. J. O’Rourke quote to the effect that there’s nothing that makes people more irrationally angry then someone suddenly getting richer, particularly if they don’t understand how they did it.

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  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    I grew up in a small town just a little bigger than Lonaconing, MD. It’s different than what most of y’all are used to. Everyone knows everyone else. Not knowing who got the money is going to seem odd (though I don’t blame the winner). And their lives are going to be very much more interwoven than what we are used to as well. For instance, in my small town there were families that were identifiable as being among the first white settlers in the region. And the geneologies and intermarriages were all known. Kinda like with hobbits, really. Lots of history that nobody else cares about.

    The out-of-towners – well that’s something else.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of entitlement there, too. But it’s a scene more different than you maybe realize.

    And while it may make sense for the winners to create, say, a $10 million endowment trust that addresses needs of the community and its members, it’s quite likely that there’s nobody there who knows anything at all about how to operate such a thing. I mean, I don’t. I just know people who do, but they live in big cities.

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  17. Nightcrawler says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Exactly. If I won, I’d get the hell out of that bastard town ASAP.

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  18. Nightcrawler says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    while it may make sense for the winners to create, say, a $10 million endowment trust that addresses needs of the community and its members, it’s quite likely that there’s nobody there who knows anything at all about how to operate such a thing.

    Oh hell no. The way these greedy people are behaving, I wouldn’t give them a single penny. I’d get as far away from that town and them as I possibly could — and I wouldn’t make the mistake Lot’s wife did.

    Especially since, this being a small town, the same people claiming they “deserve” that money are almost certainly the “Pull yerself up by yer bootstraps” and “Nobodeeeee owes yuuuuuuuu aneeethinggggggg” types.

    Although if the town had an animal shelter, I’d set up something very generous for them. I could do that from the other end of the world.

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