In the United States alone, prize players spend more than $70 billion dollars on tickets each year, even though the odds of winning—the Powerball, for example—are only about 1 in 175 million. And of those prize payment winners who do hit a large jackpot, most of them will not end up wealthy over a long period. However, we can’t seem to resist the headlines about those who win big. Here, we take a look at some of the more unique prize winner stories from the good to the bad to the weird.
Luckiest Man Alive
88-year-old prize winner, Frank Selak, of Croatia, is still alive. And the reason that’s impressive is not because of his age. Selak had seven near-death experiences between 1962 and 1996, but in a bizarre twist of luck in 2003 won the equivalent of $1 million. Selak says most people either consider him to be the unluckiest or luckiest man alive, though he prefers the latter.
1962: Selak was traveling on a train that derailed and plunged into an icy river, killing 17 passengers. Selak escaped with just a broken arm, as well as a few cuts and bruises.
1963: Selak was on his first (and what would wind up being his only) airplane flight when the door blew away from the cockpit, forcing him out of the plane. Although 19 others were killed, Selak suffered only minor injuries, as he miraculously landed in a giant haystack.
1966: Selak was riding a bus when it suddenly crashed and plunged into yet another river. This time, Selak escaped unharmed. Four passengers were killed, and several others seriously injured.
1970: A faulty fuel pump burst Selak’s car into flames. He managed to escape only seconds before the explosion, saving his life.
1973: Selak’s subsequent car caught on fire as well. Though the vehicle did not explode, fire erupted through the air vents, burning off all of Selak’s hair.
1995: Selak managed to avoid any brushes with death for more than 20 years, leaving the entire decade of the 80s untouched. However, unfortunately for Selak, it wouldn’t last into the final years of the century. As a pedestrian, Selak was hit head-on by a city bus. He suffered only minor injuries.
1996: A truck was about to collide with Selak on the highway. He managed to avoid the impact by swerving into a guardrail, which collapsed under the force of his car. Selak was ejected from the vehicle,—he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt—grabbed a tree and held on for his life as the car plummeted 300 feet into a gorge.
2000-Present: The 21st century has been much kinder to Selak. After winning the million, he bought two houses and a boat. He also was married for the fifth time at the time of the win. In 2010, he gave the remaining cash to family and friends, deciding to adopt a frugal lifestyle. Selak’s story became such a sensation that he was offered the opportunity to fly to Australia to film a commercial for Doritos. He declined, stating that he didn’t want to press his luck.
Most Generous Winners
It is common to hear about prize winners going broke. That’s because it happens to a whopping 70% of them. But these generous winners didn’t need to worry about that, as they donated most or all of their prize money to great causes.
Allen and Violet Large, of Nova Scotia, won an $11.2 million jackpot in 2010. The couple, then in their 70s, decided that they had enough retirement money to live comfortably, and gave all of their prize money away. A large portion went to hospitals, but they also gave plenty to friends and family, churches, cemeteries, the local fire department and other charitable organizations. Sadly, Violet died in a hospital the very next year.
Ray and Barbara Wragg are considered some of the happiest winners in Britain’s history. But what makes this couple, now in their mid to late 60s, happy was giving most of it away. As of 2013, in the 13 years since collecting their jackpot check for 7.6 million pounds, the couple had given away an astonishing 5.5 million. Hundreds of people—from friends and family to total strangers and charities—have benefitted from Ray and Barbara’s generosity.
Sheelah Ryan, a 1988 prize winner who died in 1994, is still considered among the most generous winners on record in the United States. She won $55.2 million (which would be about double that figure in 2017) in Florida, and spent the next six years giving it all away before she died from cancer. Her charitable group, the Ryan Foundation, built low-cost housing, paid rent for single mothers, assisted poor children and even helped out stray cats.
My Husband Hid his Prize Winnings
In 2007, Florida resident Arnim Ramdass began exhibiting suspicious behavior surrounding the family finances. His wife, Donna Campbell, suspected he had gotten the couple into some kind of financial troubles when he started to keep the television turned off and disconnected the phone line.
Understandably, she was confused, shocked and surprised when she found a postcard about a new home purchase.
What Campbell was unaware of was that her husband was hiding prize payments from her. Ramdass had been one of 17 airline mechanics who entered a pool to purchase a winning Florida ticket. She had no idea of this until she one day performed an Internet search for her husband’s name and prize number.
The group of mechanics opted for the lump-sum payment of $10.2 million, meaning each of the 17 winners would receive about $600,000 before taxes.
After the winning, Ramdass took a leave of absence from work, according to his co-workers. One day he never returned home, either. The courts had to undergo a lengthy process of tracking him down to hand him lawsuit and divorce papers from his wife.
Man Uses Prize Money to Traffic Meth
In 2016, a Georgia man who won a $3 million prize was accused of using a portion of his prize money to invest in a drug ring.
Ronnie Music Jr., 47, used his 2015 windfall to purchase crystal meth, and then supply it to dealers who would sell it at a profit.
Investigators said Music’s co-conspirators attempted to sell about 11 pounds of crystal meth—with a street value of more than $500,000. Agents also recovered more than $1 million worth of methamphetamine—along with firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and $600,000 in cash.
Earlier this year, Music Jr. was convicted of drug trafficking and firearm charges, and sentenced to 21 years in federal prison. To avoid the maximum sentence of nearly 34 years in prison, Music Jr. cooperated with authorities to bust other dealers involved in the meth ring. In total, 15 people were arrested and convicted.
Just as “lightning doesn’t strike twice,” typically neither does fortune. But it did for these ultra lucky prize winners.
New York native Bruce Magistro hit a $1 million prize with two tickets, just four years apart.
Although Magistro plays nearly every day, the chance of even one win was incredibly low, at 1 in 7,745,600.
The Long Island resident won his first million in 2012 playing the Extreme Cash Game, a former type of scratch-off ticket.
At the time, Magistro and his family desperately needed the money to pay for medical bills and care for his ailing wife, who he lost to cancer three years later. Through the grieving process, he found love again and was engaged at the time of his second victory.
In 2016, Magistro, a 48-year-old construction worker, scored the top prize on a Win $1,000 A Week For Life scratch-off game.
New York presented Magistro with his big check on the second anniversary of his wife’s death.
Magistro had the option of receiving a guaranteed $1 million paid out in annual installments over 20 years, with additional prize payments for life or taking the cash value in a single lump sum of about $527,560. He chose the 20-year option. His first win will continue paying $33,090 each year through 2031.
Stephen and Terri Weaver
A couple in Arkansas each won separate lotto prizes twice in one day.
On a day trip to go fishing, the Weavers stopped at a convenience store and picked up a ticket on their way out to the lake. As they drove by again on their way home, they decided to revisit the convenience store to purchase some items, including a second ticket.
The first ticket the Weavers purchased netted the couple a $1 million prize, while the second ticket scored an additional $50,000.
The couple had been purchasing prize tickets for decades and had actually won some small prizes in the past. They said they planned to continue playing, but there have been no subsequent victory stories about them in the news.
In 2016, a North Carolina woman who was battling cancer won twice within just a three-month span. Along with her husband, Short purchased a ticket that ended up winning them $1 million in the Ultimate Millions Second-Chance drawing. Three months later, she won $250,000 in the state’s All or Nothing Lotto. This was that particular state’s top prize, with odds of winning at 1 in 2.7 million.
Short was receiving chemotherapy and treatments for breast cancer at the time of victories. She had been battling the disease for six years. Short had been playing since 2014, but felt a lucky vibe when she purchased her first winning ticket.
Lightning strikes, and so does the Lotto
Metaphorical lightning has struck twice with a few winners, but literal lightning is involved in this story. In 2015, a Canadian man became the first known person to beat the odds of being struck by lightning and later winning a $1 million prize in the Atlantic Lotto 6/49.
When Peter McCathie was 14, lightning struck him while he was on a boating trip in Nova Scotia. He was wading through shallow waters during a relatively sunny day with a few gathering clouds, attempting to tie up his boat, when a lightning bolt fired down.
McCathie survived the lightning strike, and 30 years later went on to become a winner.
The odds of getting struck by lightning in Canada are less than one in a million.
The odds of winning the Atlantic Lotto 6/49 are one in 13,983,816.
The odds of both—one in 2.6 trillion.
McCathie purchased the winning lotto ticket at his own store, along with one of his coworkers. Because his store was home to the winning numbers, he received an additional $10,000 prize.