Hoping to win the lottery?

Chris —  October 17, 2009

If you dream of picking the right Powerball, read about Jack Whittaker and the chapter of his life that began on a December morning a few years ago.

The next morning, as always, he rose at 4:30 to get to work. Jack, 55, had been working construction since he was a poor 14-year-old in the hills. He’d built himself a nice life in this patch of West Virginia hard by the Kentucky and Ohio borders. He had a wife and a granddaughter who basked in his attentions, a brick house in a nice subdivision in neighboring Scott Depot, and a water and sewer pipe-laying business that employed more than 100 people. At 5:15 a.m., Jack snapped on the television and heard, to his surprise, that the winning ticket had been sold at the C&L Super Serve. What are the odds, Jack later said he was thinking, that one little convenience store would sell two lucky tickets? Just then the winning numbers flashed. The numbers broadcast the night before had been wrong. He had a match on all five numbers, not four.

Jack Whittaker had just won $314 million, the largest undivided lottery jackpot in history.

A few hours later, he ambled into the C&L Super Serve and calmly handed Brenda a bill, saying he’d been meaning to give it to her before Christmas. Brenda figured it was a $1 tip for helping him diet, taking care to pinch a little dough out of his bacon biscuits so the cowboy-man’s big burly wouldn’t go soft.

"He handed me a $100 bill!" Brenda recalls. "I looked at it, and I’m, like, ‘Oh, no, no, no. I’m not taking this from you.’ And he’s, like, ‘Oh, yes, you are.’"

Then it hit her.

"Did you win?" Brenda whispered.

Jack nodded and grinned.

The day would come when many West Virginians recalled the story of Jack’s Powerball Christmas with a shudder at the magnitude of ruination: families asunder, precious lambs six feet under, folks undone by the lure of all that easy money.

But for now, Jack’s big win was viewed as one of the greatest Christmas gifts in his poor state’s history, a holiday miracle to be heralded around the globe.

Read the whole thing here.

6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:1-10.


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7 responses to Hoping to win the lottery?

  1. I read the story, and it made me interested to research a little more. Since that was written (2005), Jack’s been ordered to undergo rehab, his daughter also died of an apparent overdose, and all the money is now gone due to lawsuits, profligate spending, and robberies.

  2. Alice,
    Do you have any links to sources for the continuing story? I would be interested to see them.

  3. I’ve followed this story since the article was published in 2005. The story gets sadder and sadder. Jack has been in and out of jail. His wife divorced him. His daughter refuses to speak to him. The gigantic sanctuary building he paid for for the little church (25 regular attenders) sits vacant. The pastor left the church and lives in California. Jack often appears in court hung over, beaten up, and incoherent. He was once a pillar of the community. It’s heartbreaking.

  4. The one girl made a very prescient connection, comparing the wealth to the effect the one ring had on people in Lord of the Rings. It corrupts everyone it comes into contact with. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate – their sin nature already exists, it merely exacerbates it.

    Great wealth, much like great power and great beauty, is a great moral hazard.

  5. I appreciate this thoughtful interaction. I was just reading today in Tim Keller’s new book (Counterfeit Gods):

    “The central plot device of The Lord of the Rings is the Dark Lord Sauron’s Ring of power, which corrupts anyone who tries to use it, however good his or her intentions. The Ring is what Professor Tom Shippey calls “a psychic amplifier,” which takes the heart’s fondest desires and magnifies them to idolatrous proportions.” (page xv)

    In the tragic instance of this man who won the lottery, it would seem that the lottery was a psychic amplifier – – a Ring –he got the ring, and the amplification of his idolatry destroyed him.

  6. Scott, I just googled the guy’s name and came up with a load of stuff right off the bat. The first two or three articles gave that info I found.

    This story is a good reminder for me because sometimes I am deluded into thinking if I had a little more money, I would worry less. Instead, you worry more, just about different things.