Dave and Erica Harrig stayed true to their values when they won a lottery jackpot of more than $61 million in 2013. It made all the difference.
The couple from Gretna, Nebraska, a community on the outskirts of Omaha where Dave Harrig is now a volunteer firefighter, allowed themselves to buy a new house, a few vintage cars and a few ocean cruises after they both quit their jobs.
But nine years later, they still live as they always did, staying in their community, keeping in touch with church, family and friends, and teaching their children to work hard to support themselves despite any financial windfalls that come their way. .
Many other winners have not been so lucky to endure personal setbacks and lawsuits or fall victim to scams. The last big jackpot winner came on Friday, when a single ticket sold in Illinois matched the numbers for a Mega Millions prize of $1,337 billion. Illinois is one of the states where winners over $250,000 can choose not to reveal their names.
Dave Harrig, an Air Force veteran who worked in aircraft maintenance, says keeping things simple has probably saved him and his family from the kind of hassles and tragedies that have happened to other big winners.
Almost overnight, the Harrigs’ mailbox was filled with letters full of bad luck stories: sick children, lost jobs, burned-out houses.
Dave Harrig said they ignored them all and focused on their own families and charities.
They didn’t even talk to the director about their profits until a few years ago when they took advantage of it to fund a new firefighting museum in Gretna that is opening soon.
“We have nicer things, a bigger house and more than we ever had in the past. But we’re the same, and my wife and I keep each other in check,” said Dave Harrig, encouraging future lottery winners to invest wisely, choose a national investment advisor over a local one, and avoid advisors that offer financial products.
They ignored false rumors circulating about them, suggesting that his wife ran off with a doctor at one point and that he had a lawyer girlfriend. Their four children were bullied at school.
“We’re still learning, but it’s helped to keep working together as a team,” he said of himself and his wife.
He acknowledged the struggles of some past winners, saying that the experience of winning a jackpot “can really accentuate your character and any addictions you may have.”
The late Andrew Whittaker Jr., of West Virginia, faced lawsuits and personal setbacks after winning a record $315 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas night in 2002.
At the time, it was the largest jackpot in the American lottery to be won by a single ticket. People pestered him with requests for money so much that he was quoted several times saying he wished he had tore up the ticket.
Before dying of natural causes in 2020 at the age of 72, he struggled with alcohol and gambling problems and had a string of personal tragedies, including the death of his granddaughter.
Winning the lottery brought other types of headaches for Manuel Franco of West Allis, Wisconsin, who claimed a $768 million lottery jackpot in April 2019.
When he was only 24, Franco excitedly held a press conference to discuss his win, but later reportedly went into hiding amid harassment from strangers and the news media.
The Wisconsin Better Business Bureau began warning people in 2021 about messages from scammers claiming to be the multimillion-dollar winner.
The scammers used Franco’s name and sent text messages, social media messages, phone calls and phishing emails for personal information, telling recipients that they had been selected to receive money.
The BBB said scammers received more than $13,000 from people they defrauded, including people in Alabama and Colorado.
Despite the difficulties the winners face, lottery officials prefer to identify winners publicly in order to instill public confidence in the games.
That’s in large part because some drawings from the past have been manipulated. Former Director of Information Security for the Multi-State Lottery Association, Eddie Tipton pleaded guilty in 2017 to manipulate software so that he could predict winning numbers on certain days of the year. He and his brother have manipulated jackpots in numerous states for a combined payout of approximately $24 million.
AP researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report.