Why do most of the lottery winners go broke?

What a winning advisor advises lottery millionaires : "Above all, don't tell anyone about it!"

The millionaires train. They all stepped over these red marble steps in the headquarters of Lotto Berlin: the worried East Berlin pensioner, whose greatest concern was whether he, as a millionaire, would still be allowed to be a guest of the People's Solidarity, the four work colleagues in a per mille state of emergency who wanted to know whether the sparkling wine had already been chilled, the two gastronomy brothers who first wanted to buy new pots from their millions, the woman with the Ruhr area accent who kept asking: “Mr. Trabalski, it's not a joke, is it? Tell me that it's no fun! ”And many, many others.

[This text appeared in the Tagesspiegel first time 2019 and interested many readers. Due to current events, we are making it available again here.]

People who look happy for no reason are asked: Did you win the lottery? Lotto has become another word for luck. The probability of winning the lottery is lower than that of dying bowling. It is 1: 139,838,160 for a main prize, i.e. six correct numbers plus a super number. It is astonishing that so many people take part in a game with such a miserable prospect of winning.

Nevertheless, there are around ten to 15 Berliners in front of Lutz Trabalski every year, who are exactly that: one in 139 million. Lutz Trabalski is a winner advisor at Lotto Berlin. What a job description! Losers need advice, debtors need advice, but winners?

“I won!” Shouts Father König in the Ruhr area series “The Lotto Kings” when an employee from “Winner Support” introduces himself to the brand new millionaire. The winning supervisor is by no means a TV invention, only he usually does not come home, but the lottery ticket holder with the extravagant number combination in the trembling hand has to appear in front of him. Otherwise there is no money.

Lotto Berlin, close to Adenauerplatz. A large fifties building, architectural stoop, but with the will to power, a listed building. Lutz Trabalski, Head of Customer Service, responsible for "large-scale profit processing", is one of those people in whose presence you feel even smaller than you already are. If he wants to speak to others, he usually has to look deeply, and many a new millionaire is probably already scared of him. But the big profit processor has an affinity that in the end probably took away everyone's fear of their own profit.

Lothar. Lotto. Lamborghini

He probably also shows his clients the shell inclusions in the red marble steps. “The variety is incredibly expensive, they haven't saved anything here!” Explains Trabalski. He has been walking these steps for almost forty years. And also for the millionaires to be it is the first in a new life. Trabalski ensures that the next ones are also the right ones if possible.

Perhaps he will tell you about Walter Knoblauch, formerly a fire eater, then an outpatient brush and shoelace seller. When this house was built, the most legendary peddler of all time won the then unimaginable sum of 500,000 Deutschmarks. He chose the tried and tested third-party investment in Sex & Drugs & Rock ’n’ Roll. After 22 months, the money was gone and Garlic was selling brushes and laces again. In the meantime, however, he owned a hotel in Jever that read: "Closed due to wealth". Or “Lotto-Lothar” from Hanover, 3.9 million mark winner from 1994. He wore a thick gold chain with the three big Ls: Lothar. Lotto. Lamborghini. At the age of 52 he died of a gastric perforation and cirrhosis of the liver.

Trabalski's office is a cold shock. Brittle work atmosphere, clunky desk, blackboard. 17 degrees? “I'm more likely to be Norwegian,” says the winner's advisor, turning off the air conditioning. "My lucky children are sitting there," he adds, pointing to the gray delinquent chair at the front of the small conference table.

If Trabalski took a seat across the street at the desk, the interrogation situation would be perfect. But he doesn't do that. “I don't want to sit in a confrontational way,” explains the lay psychologist. He rather prefers sitting alongside, that is, a little sideways, away from the table, casually.

A new life in six numbers

First Trabalski checks the lottery ticket. There are two types of winners. Some come immediately, with trembling hands. These are the ones who are afraid they might lose their ticket at the last minute. Maybe the apartment burns down, after all that is much more likely than a main prize in the lottery. Or does the woman bring down the waste paper? Nobody can watch a little piece of paper all day long with a new life written on it in six numbers.

Trabalski understands that. But others take their time. Just like the two Neukölln work colleagues who cracked the Euro jackpot in March of last year. 42,670,719 million and 30 cents! The numbers were: 15 - 23 - 28 - 33 - 36, plus the euro numbers 4 and 7. Trabalski waited, then finally someone came, the other had to work. The 42,670,719-million-euro-and-30-cent-picker looked at least as businesslike and hypothermic as Trabalski's office. Just a matter of routine? Or he didn't want to attract any attention, not even the trabal skis.

So there is no typical new millionaire look? “But no!” Shouts the first supervisor, you have no idea how different millionaires can look. Few of them have the triumphant view of the world that belongs to me. The East Berlin pensioner, who kept asking Trabalski whether he could still play cards with the People's Solidarity, had a thoroughly sad aura of tendentious despondency, as if he wanted to ask: What am I supposed to do with so many millions?

Others already have an idea, after all, they hand in their lottery ticket every time in a frame of mind of anticipating wealth, but then still don't look like winners: What if I just dream all of this?

Trabalski advises his clients two things right at the beginning, and they are the opposite of what people usually answer when asked: What would you do if you had a six in the lottery?

First I quit my job, then I have a huge party, go on a trip around the world and just go shopping! Is the standard answer.

Maintain as much normality as possible

"Completly wrong! Completely wrong approach! ”Says Trabalski. Just don't quit your job! Trabalski likes to say “my winners”. And then he explains to his winners that in the completely abnormal situation they find themselves in, everything depends on maintaining as much normality as possible. “Tomorrow I have a day off!” Ponders Father König in the “LottoKönigen”, pauses briefly, and then corrects himself as follows: “Wrong! I'm always free now! ”And he writes a haughty letter of resignation to his arrogant boss. The letter is already gone when his winning advisor explains to him the same thing as Trabalski.

However, not everyone immediately thinks about quitting. A lady in her mid-fifties asked Trabalski what he asks everyone when they leave his office: “What do you do now?” Because only when his customers step out of this room, the profit is official, they are really nailed down Millionaires. Three days later, the millions are in the account, guaranteed tax-free! Cash payments are not provided. The woman looked at him carefully and said: “Well, I'm going to the night shift!” She could justify that: “On duty is on duty,” she said, “and schnapps is schnapps!” Trabalski had never seen it that way. He was impressed.

But also welfare recipients often think very conservatively. A two-million-dollar winner explained to the large profit processor that he could not do without his social assistance, otherwise he would no longer have health insurance. Trabalski's objection that welfare was not invented for millionaires was not implausible to him, but too short-sighted. What if the two million are gone after a year and he doesn't even have health insurance?

This is a legitimate concern, as the example of “Lotto-Claus” shows. The Thuringian tiler won almost 1.6 million marks in 1997. Seven years later, the police arrested Thuringia's most industrious serial burglar: The 1.6 million had long been gone, and as a millionaire - well, ex-millionaire - laying tiles again, Claus W. could not agree with his social prestige.

"Don't tell anyone about it!" Advises Trabalski

This is what Trabalski's initial consultation is about: How do I start so that I will still be rich and myself in the next year? Or at least someone who could be sympathetic to me? “Above all, don't tell anyone about it!” Advises Trabalski. In no case like Claus W.'s mother put an advertisement in the newspaper in which friends and acquaintances were invited to drink on the "millionaire's hill". Say nothing to friends, nothing to neighbors, sometimes not even to your partner, especially not to the children.

A Berlin father felt so sincere that he had informed his 15- and 17-year-old children about the very new financial circumstances of the family. Trabalski turned pale, and rightly so. Advice from their teachers that they would have to make a little effort if something was to come of them, both of them soon only acknowledged with a highly ironic smile. The two multi-millionaires considered that advice from losers was completely out of place. Only the poor learn for life.

Psychologists explain it this way: winning the lottery is one of the non-normative, i.e. critical life events. You burden, unsettle, overwhelm. This applies to adults, but even more so to children. It slows down, shall we say, their natural performance behavior.

We have no natural performance behavior! The new millionaire children could object now.That may well be true, because those who are very young almost never believe that there is hardly a more sad form of existence than having to have fun every day. The youth consider this to be hostile adult propaganda.

They all tell him their life story

Trabalski not. I really like going to breakfast, he says, but the idea that he has nothing to do every day but go to breakfast scares him. Trabalski teaches those who no longer need to see with new eyes what they need. We have most of the social contacts in our work, he postulates, insofar as a dismissal means additional uprooting of someone who is already acutely uprooted.

They all tell him their life story. The longest interview lasted nine hours. He is a confessor, psychotherapist and obstetrician all in one. I give birth to millionaires, says Trabalski.

Trabalski started out in this house as a student assistant for manual lottery ticket reading. And has stayed in customer service, because the environmental technician with a diploma has always been much more interested in people than numbers. Especially those on the ejection seat into a new life.

That is probably the most disillusioning finding: The new millionaire actually no longer fits into his life. In fact, he is dismayingly alone. “But I don't want a penthouse!” Said the East Berlin multimillionaire, I want to stay in my little prefabricated apartment! He knew everyone on his floor and the card players every Wednesday at the People's Solidarity - that was his family. And should he lose it now, just because of a few million dying lonely in some penthouse?

Yes, if he could give his neighbors and the people's solidarity a little pleasure, or, given the circumstances, a somewhat greater pleasure? "Careful!" Warned Trabalski. And there it was again, the warning to the greatest possible discretion.

The work of happiness lies ahead of them

It is actually a paradoxical situation: those who are happy want to let others have a share, that is a completely normal impulse. He wants to share. That's probably because happiness was invented before money. But Trabalski intervenes: “For God's sake, don't do that!” In addition, his winners are not happy at all, they were just lucky. That is a big difference. The whole work of happiness lies ahead of them.

“I've always said that money spoils character,” Trabalski's grandmother used to say to her grandson. Everything that is currently on people makes money crooked. It tends to turn people who want to surrender into Ebenezer Scrooges from Charles Dickens' “Christmas story”. The big win processor sees it a little differently. The problem is that the situation can easily get out of hand. Habit millionaires don't ask for money. They don't give anything, otherwise they wouldn't be millionaires, many believe. It is different with lottery winners. This is where happiness communism comes into play. Happiness has to be shared. In more and more pieces and in the end everyone thinks his is too small anyway?

But the finding remains that people from smaller backgrounds have a much greater need to give up, Trabalski observed. Probably because they know better what material worries are. It's just funny how many new worries the one who has just been freed from all worries can have.

Strangely enough, almost no one feels the need to set up a foundation or donate a large sum. Trabalski cannot explain that either. Perhaps because winning the lottery is so incredibly specific and personal that the anonymous gesture is far removed?

Sometimes he wants to write a book

And then there is still a danger: the chance that one's own family will pass the test of unexpected abundance is not a given. Because doesn't a completely new life also include a completely new man, a completely new woman? And even if not: what if the two leftovers from their old lives think of completely different investments right from the start?

Sometimes Trabalski thinks he should write a book about "his winners". Unfortunately, he almost never knows what became of them.

Actually, it is hardest for those who become millionaires on their own. Trabalski remembers the tears of the man whose wife was terminally ill. "Why now?" He asked. And he thinks of the Berliner, who saved her life for her weekly lot, who had to watch her child die under a collapsing wall. "I've never been lucky in my life," she said, it is the first time. The new millionaire knew exactly what she would do when she came out of Trabalski's office. Go to the fresh produce counter in the supermarket and say: 100 grams of foie gras and 100 grams of Parma ham please! Nothing more prepackaged, never again. That is their concept of luxury.

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