If you win Big Game, try to let it be your little secret

300 million reasons to learn to say `no'

When lightning strikes

May 09, 2000|By Brendan A. Maher | Brendan A. Maher,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

With the Big Game jackpot in nine digits, fantasies of winning can overshadow the overwhelming 80 million-to-one odds against. Maybe all you need is a dollar and a dream, but if somehow you win, you'd better watch out, a mega-jackpot expert says.

"Get your estates in order; spend only your income; and learn how to say, `No.'"

This advice comes from attorney Laurence Sturtz, the Columbus, Ohio, attorney who managed post-lottery details for 13 Ohio machinists who hit the biggest Powerball jackpot to date - more than $295 million - in July 1998.

With a $10-apiece ante, the machinists shared a pool of 130 tickets in playing their first-ever game of Powerball. When their numbers came up two days later, they were the most envied, most celebrated and most pursued people in the country.

With a cash payout of $161.5 million, the group of blue-collar pals - who called themselves "the Lucky 13" - walked away with about $7 million each after taxes.

That's when the trouble could have started. Sturtz, citing the dreadful statistic that three-fifths of all lottery winners file for bankruptcy within three years of claiming their prizes, said he worked to keep the Powerball winners from becoming victims of their fortunes.

Almost as quickly as the news media picked up on their story, Sturtz says, the Lucky 13 were approached to invest in everything from the expansion of local repair shops to the making of the "Lucky 13" movie.

Sturtz fielded all of these calls and addressed them each with a prompt "no," and then helped the winners to weather the barrage of media coverage and attention.

For the record, all the members of the jackpot group have been quite good at enjoying the luck that befell them.

"They are all doing great," Sturtz says. "Most have retired, and half I still represent. They are all happy and well. None have divorced. Some bought properties in Florida. Many have given to charities."

His nonspecific answers are necessary, he says, to remain true to his promise to keep the lives of his clients private.

With the exception of one John Jarrell, who addressed the media for a time and then quickly asserted that riding his Harley was far more exciting, the identities of the other dozen were kept strictly hush-hush.

Something to think about if your numbers somehow come up tonight.

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