Won record-breaking jackpot, then suffered unprecedented string of bad luck
By Kate Northrop
CHARLESTON, W.V. — Andrew “Jack” Whittaker, a Powerball player infamous for the string of bad luck following his record-breaking jackpot win, died at the age of 72 on Saturday, June 27 after battling a long illness, according to his obituary.
In December 2002, Whittaker, 55, won the $315 million Powerball Jackpot in West Virginia, the largest-ever jackpot won by a single ticket at the time. He was well-known as someone who embodied the “lottery curse,” a type of misfortune that ensues for those who win the lottery, including bankruptcy or other tragic events. After taking home about $113 million after taxes, Whittaker’s life took an unfortunate turn.
Less than a year after winning the jackpot, the downward spiral began. He was riddled with personal and legal troubles, developed a drinking problem, and tended to frequent strip clubs. A wide-spread rumor began circulating that he had a habit for leaving huge amounts of cash on him wherever he went. In one instance, thieves reportedly stole a mindboggling $545,000 from his car in a strip club parking lot while he was inside the club. Not even a year later, another set of robbers broke into his car and stole a briefcase that held $200,000. Thankfully, the $200,000 was recovered by law enforcement, but unfortunately the $545,000 was not.
Whittaker also got involved in scams where people would look to gain access to his deep pockets. His company was slammed with frivolous lawsuits by strangers, which cost him millions in legal fees. At some point, he reported that thieves had drained his bank account. He was also sued by Caesars Atlantic City casino for bouncing checks worth $1.5 million to cover his gambling losses.
Sadly, robbers and legalities were the least of his troubles.
He had a very close relationship with his granddaughter, Brandi Bragg, 17, and gifted her four cars and a $2,000-a-week allowance. The continuous influx of cash backfired and attracted the wrong kind of attention. She began suffering from a substance abuse disorder, potentially fueled by the large sums of money he gave her. Whittaker used his money to help her curb her addiction, albeit unsuccessfully, and checked her into rehab centers multiple times.
In 2004, Brandi’s boyfriend, Jimmy Tribble, 18, died of a drug overdose in Whittaker’s home. Just three months later, Brandi met the same fate. Her body was found wrapped in plastic and dumped behind a van by a friend who panicked when he found her dead. Her cause of death was deemed “undetermined,” although she had cocaine and methamphetamines in her system.
No one was arrested. For the rest of his life, Whittaker was haunted by his granddaughter’s death. While attending his own hearing for a DUI he committed in 2003, he angrily criticized law enforcement agencies for an inability to find justice for his granddaughter.
“She was going to inherit everything,” Whittaker professed.
In 2008, Whittaker’s wife, Jewell, filed for divorce after 42 years of marriage. With the assets Whittaker possessed, the proceedings were ugly and drawn-out, lasting for three years.
In 2009, Whittaker’s daughter and Brandi’s mother, Ginger, died of cancer. He decided to leave his troubles behind and left West Virginia for a new home in Virginia.
In 2016, his Virginia home burned down while he was on his way to work.
On several occasions, Whittaker wished he had torn up that fateful Powerball ticket. He acknowledged that his legacy would be viewed in a negative light and frequently expressed remorse.
“I’m only going to be remembered as the lunatic who won the lottery,” he said. “I’m not proud of that. I wanted to be remembered as someone who helped a lot of people.”
Indeed, he had good intentions. After his win, he paid a 10% portion of his winnings directly to Christian charities and donated $14 million to the Jack Whittaker Foundation, which provides food and clothing to low-income families in West Virginia. Then, he gifted a $123,000 house, a new Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a $44,000 check to the woman who sold him the winning ticket at the C&L SuperServe convenience store in Hurricane.
Whittaker was also successful at the time he won the prize — he was worth about $17 million after having built his contracting and construction company from the ground up.
“I’ve had to work for everything in my life,” he said. “This is the first thing that’s ever been given to me.”