Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lessons from Powerball Jack

Lessons from Powerball Jack

"Looking for love in all the wrong places."

- Johnny Lee

Five years after hitting the Powerball, Jack Whittaker admitted that he doesn't have any friends.

Jack doesn't have a lot going for him. He has run through millions of dollars, been involved in over 450 legal actions, had his granddaughter die of a drug overdose, had his wife file for divorce, and has been a public embarrassment.

It took years of blowing money on booze and strippers, but Jack seems to be wising up.

I read an interview where he offers other lottery winners some sound advice.

Jack's best tip was to not start giving money away. "The more you give away," he said, "the more they want you to give. And once you start giving it away, everyone labels you an easy touch and they are right there after you."

Jack found out that money can't buy you love.

People come into money unexpectedly and think their newfound money will buy them respect.

Instead, it buys them a lack of respect. A person with a soft touch is seen as a "mark" by con artists or "friends" with an entitlement mentality.

Those wanting handouts try to befriend the Jack Whitaker's of the world. They figure a guy like Jack won't miss a million dollars or so.

People who didn't like you before you had money won't suddenly start to like you when you are rich. They may like your checkbook, but they don't like you.

At some level, Jack figured it out early on. He walked into strip clubs with hundreds of thousands of dollars. The strippers may have appealed to various parts of Jack's anatomy, but they were only concerned with Jack's wallet. Jack knew their motives, but he didn't care.

Now, the money is gone and so are his fast money "friends." I hope Jack enjoyed it but it doesn't sound like he did.

Jack understands that he screwed up big time stating, "I'm only going to be remembered as that lunatic who won the lottery."

He is absolutely right.

He set up the Jack Whittaker Foundation, which built churches and gave out college scholarships. He made a positive impact on a lot of people, but no one is going to remember that. They are only going to remember all his screw ups.

If Jack had been smart, he would have given a big, tax-deductible, chunk of money to the foundation. Then he could have told all the beggars and borrowers wanting money that they needed to qualify for a foundation grant. The foundation would have decided which cause was worthy and which was not.

I doubt that strippers would be on the list.

If Jack's friends needed to borrow money that is what banks are for. Every city has one. Banks understand the criteria for making a loan and the likelihood of it being paid back.

Banks know a lot more about lending than individual people do. When people ask me for a loan or try to borrow money from my clients, I send them to a bank. Banks are in the lending business and I am not.

When Jack became the personal banker for his friends, he lost his money and his friends.

I understand why people give money to friends and relatives. They love the people and want to help them.

They are using the wrong device to show love.

There is a scene in the movie, Oh God, where a televangelist told his flock, "I want to talk about the kind of love where you reach down in your pocket and dig DEEP!"

Like the movie character, too many people equate love with receiving gifts and too many people equate showing love with how much money they spend.

Powerball Jack learned about love the hard way. Before he won the lottery, he had a wife and a granddaughter. His wife left and his granddaughter is dead. As Jack admitted, none of his "friends" from the strip club are hanging around anymore.

He learned that by looking for love in all the wrong places, he lost the real love he had at home.

He has gotten the message but at a terrible cost.

Story Behind the Song

"Looking for Love" was the biggest hit from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. It was one of the best movie soundtracks ever recorded. Ironically, it was for a terrible movie that almost destroyed John Travolta's career.

Although Debra Winger was incredible and the movie made her a huge star, Travolta, was terribly miscast in a part that originally was supposed to go to Dennis Quaid.

I am a huge John Travolta fan and have seen Saturday Night Fever over 40 times. I can't make it through Urban Cowboy. Mike Behler, my college roommate, described it as "Vinnie Barbareno goes to Texas" and Mike hit it right on the head.

"Looking for Love" made Johnny Lee a brief star and is one of those songs you either love or really hate. I love it, like I do every song on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack.

The Poll

The following are the results from the last poll:

1. What is your primary source of news?

Internet - 60.0%
Newspapers - 20.0%
Radio - 13.3%
Television - 6.7%
Other - 0.0%

2. How many newspapers do you subscribe to?

None - 55.0%
Two - 25.9%
One - 14.8%
Three or more - 3.7%

This week there are two poll questions:

1. Do you loan money to your friends?

2. If you won the lottery, what percentage would you give to charity?

To vote in this week's poll follow the link below. The poll will be on the left hand side of the web page.

Weekly Poll

Don McNay is the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers, and What to Do You When You Win the Lottery. The book is available at You can write to Don at and read other things he has written at McNay's award winning syndicated column appears in over 200 publications.

My 25th Anniversary: Reflections on 25 Years in the Financial World

McNay on Money

My 25th Anniversary: Reflections on 25 Years in the Financial World

"For 25 years of touring, we remained partners, brothers, and friends. We keep it together because we think we could be big time before it all ends."

-Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

September 22nd marks the 25th anniversary of the day I joined the financial business. I was 23, right out of grad school at Vanderbilt, after a stop on the clean up crew at the Kentucky horse park.

The Dow Jones average was hovering around 1000, interest rates were in the double digits and we were in the midst of a horrible recession. Tax rates had approached 70% for some people.

Almost everyone told me it was a terrible time to get into the financial business. They were wrong. I started at the bottom and rode the wave upward.

My first clients, the few who would talk to a 23-year-old with no experience, did incredibly well as the economy improved and more opportunities became available.

It has been a very good run.

The defining moment of those 25 years was the 1987 stock market crash.

I had about 400 clients on Black Monday. I talked to almost every one that day and only four pulled their money out of the market. They got burned. The rest did extremely well and many are still clients today.

Although the stock market crashed in 1987, the bond market went dramatically up on the same day. People in fixed investments, like annuities or certificates of deposit, remained fixed. They did not lose any money or any sleep.

The 1987 meltdown was a great lesson. My clients learned to stay calm during fear and irrational panic. They learned the value of being diversified in the first place.

It was harder to communicate in 1987. We did not have email or the Internet. Only a few people had fax machines. I got my immediate news from cable television. I watched FNN, a forerunner to CNBC and Moneyline, with Lou Dobbs on CNN.

Many people did not know about the drop in the stock market until they read the newspaper the next day.

Today, very few daily newspapers carry stock market quotes. It is easier to track investments on the Internet.

This week, when the Federal Reserve got in touch with the real world and cut interest rates, the announcement made it around the world in seconds and the Dow Jones average immediately jumped over 300 points. If Bernanke and his crew had done something stupid, which had previously been their pattern, stocks would have dropped in that same warp speed.

The key to doing well in a rapidly changing world is having clear goals and sticking to them. I've been reading a tremendous book called Poker Nation and it had an interesting point. The key to success in gambling is the same key in money management. You have to ignore the ups and downs of each day and look at the long term trend.

Casinos keep making money as they know the long term trend favors them. Individual investors do well when they stay focused on the long term too.

Like the song says, if you keep it together, you might be big time before it all ends.

Like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, I plan on being big time and will give you another report at the end of the next 25-year run.