Bailouts Don't Work: The Lotto Winners Study

by Don McNay Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is one of the world's leading authorities in helping people deal with “Big Money” issues.

McNay is an award winning, syndicated financial columnist and Huffington Post Contributor.

You can read more about Don at

McNay founded McNay Settlement Group, a structured settlement and financial consulting firm, in 1983 and Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC in 2000. You can read more about both at

McNay has Master's Degrees from Vanderbilt and the American College and is in the Eastern Kentucky University Hall of Distinguished Alumni.

McNay has written two books. Most recent is Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win The Lottery

McNay is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table and has four professional designations in the financial services field.

"Keep on working hard boy, try as you may, you're going to wind up where you started from." ~Cat Stevens

Interviewer: "What is your prediction for this fight?"
Clubber Lang (the actor Mr. T): "Pain!"
~ From the movie, Rocky III

I stumbled upon a fascinating academic article, entitled "The Ticket to Easy Street? The Financial Consequences of Winning the Lottery".

It was written by three economics professors, Scott Hankins from the University of Kentucky, Paige Marta Skiba from Vanderbilt University, and Mark Hoekstra from the University of Pittsburgh.

The professors were not just looking to learn the habits of lottery winners. They were searching for the answer to a much larger question: "Whether a bailout will have a permanent impact or whether it will merely postpone financial pain."

In other words, does throwing money at people solve financial problems or just push those problems down the road?

The paper gives empirical proof of two things that I've been saying for a long time: (1) Bailouts don't work; and, (2) People who get large sums of money run through it in five years or less.

I am starting my 28th year in the structured settlement business. I have written a book about lottery winners. I've seen people blow huge amounts of cash.

The professors came up with an ingenious and comprehensive method for their research. They obtained a list of winners of the Florida lottery Fantasy Five lotto game from April, 1993 to November, 2002.

They compared those names to Florida bankruptcy records to see how many of the winners filed bankruptcy and when.

Filing bankruptcy means a person has completely hit bottom. You wouldn't expect that to happen to a lottery winner. Yet it does. Over and over again.

In the first couple of years after winning a jackpot, people who won small amounts were more likely to file than were people who won larger amounts. That makes sense. Someone with a large amount of money can initially weather a bad time or keep creditors at bay.

After three years, large winners are more like likely to file bankruptcy than small winners. Also, people who received large sums did not use that money to pay down debt or increase assets.

Winning the lottery did not help people increase their net worth. They needed to have set goals and an understanding of finance to make their lives better. It appears that they did not have those fundamental tools.

Giving someone a lump sum does not make financial problems go away. It's like putting an overweight person on a crash diet. Unless you can fix the underlying problem, he is going to fall back to his old habits.

This is true for lottery winners and the average American, too.

The professors' paper refers to a 2007 study in the Journal of Political Economy, where it was determined that although "consumers initially used federal rebate checks to reduce debt, eventually debt levels returned to pre-rebate levels."

In other words, all of those billions we have been throwing at rebates, bailouts and stimulus programs have been a waste of money. They did not make a long term difference for people on Main Street.

Hankins, Hoekstra and Skiba concluded that "While we cannot be sure that homeowners or other beneficiaries of government aid would respond in the same way lottery winners did, the results may warrant some skepticism about the long term efficacy of such a bailout."

You can see why bailouts fail. Wall Street and lottery winners have a common bond. They have access to easy money without restraints.

In my experience with lottery winners, some of the biggest reasons behind winners blowing their money is their family and "friends." Easy money seems to attract an "entourage" or a "posse" of hangers-on who never tell a lottery winner the one word he needs to hear.


The entourage hangs on until the money is gone. Once the party is over, they are nowhere to be found.

Wall Street has its own posse, called "Washington." The easy flow of campaign contributions, the revolving door between regulators and those they are supposed to be regulating, and the explosion of well-connected, highly paid, lobbyists makes it impossible for Washington to tell Wall Street, "No."

I've been promoting concepts designed to help Americans create wealth without Wall Street.

The first is moving your money away from Wall Street. If you take your money out of the "Too big to fail" banks, you are reducing their political power. You can learn more

If we keep on moving our money, eventually the people in Washington will have the backbone to tell Wall Street, "No."

There has been talk in Washington of another stimulus package. Instead of looking at short term solutions, the country needs to make long term, painful, economic changes.

Otherwise, like the Florida lottery winners, we are going to wind up where we started from.

Or worse.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC of Richmond Kentucky is an award-winning financial columnist and Huffington Post Contributor. You can read more about Don at

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