Arizona Lottery Winner Details How He Lost His Millions

Arizona Lottery Winner Details How He Lost His Millions
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With two weeks until payday, Shefik Tallmadge, then 29, used his last $5 in his pocket to purchase a lottery ticket at a Circle K in Yuma.

When he checked his ticket the following day, he learned he'd won Arizona's largest jackpot in the Pick lottery at the time — $6.7 million.

That was in 1988. Today, Tallmadge is broke, has declared bankruptcy, and is struggling to afford retirement. 

Tallmadge’s story is not that uncommon among multi-million-dollar lottery winners. In fact, nearly one-third of all lottery winners end up broke, according to Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.

On Tuesday night at least one person won the $1.5 billion Powerball lottery— the largest jackpot in the world, according to lottery officials. A lump-sum cash payment of the winnings would net a single winner $930 million before taxes.

The winning numbers were: 8-27-34-4-19 with Powerball: 10. California lottery officials say a winning ticket was sold in Chino Hills. Two additional winning tickets were sold in Florida and Tennessee. 

New Times reached out to Tallmadge for tips to the lucky lottery winners about what not to do with your winnings. He didn't really have any, but his is a cautionary tale.

“I can’t believe it’s up to $1.5 billion. It’s ridiculous money for the lotto,” he says. “Whoever wins that kind of money, there’s no way I can give them much advice. With a billion and a half dollars they are in the league of their own.”

Still, Tallmadge knows how easy it is to blow through millions. The day he got his check, he quit his $10.75 per hour job at Yuma Proving Ground, purchased a $60,000 nougat-brown Porsche 911 Carrera convertible, and took his mother and sister on a world tour.

“When you get the money you feel infallible,” he says. “You get into this attitude that it’s never going to end. It’s a hard lesson to learn.”

But as news of the jackpot spread through Yuma, so did the requests for money from friends, family, and strangers.

“All the relationships with people change—completely and utterly change,” he says. “All the people I knew before I won the lottery aren’t my friends anymore.”

In 1988, Shefik Tallmadge won millions in the Arizona State Lottery. Today, he is broke.
In 1988, Shefik Tallmadge won millions in the Arizona State Lottery. Today, he is broke.
Courtesy of Shefik Tallmadge

Shortly after winning, Tallmadge moved to Florida, where he married and had three children. The family lived in a beautiful estate near the beach.

Meanwhile, as the years passed, Tallmadge says the lump-sum payout offers were non-stop. Eventually he succumbed to it, taking out a lump sum to invest in four Shell gas stations in Florida, which struggled and sunk him into debt.

Two years later he was forced to sell the stations at a substantial loss. Tallmadge lost his second home and was forced to declare bankruptcy.

Today his finances are even more precarious. When he won the lottery, he paid taxes on the fortune but wasn’t required to put any money aside for Medicare or social security. So now as he approaches retirement without a savings or much Social Security money, he is struggling to get by. 

“There’s a lot of happiness that comes with winning the lottery,” he says. “But there is a lot of heartbreak too.”

Still, while he says he has many regrets about how he spent the dough, he is still glad he won.

“At least I got to experience it,” he says. “I was a very, very happy for a long time. I helped my mother and helped my sister. The good most likely outweighed the bad.”

And just like many Americans Wednesday he will be playing the lottery, in the hope that lightning will strike twice.

“Of course I still play,” he says. “Of course I’d like to be back on top of the mountain.”


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