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Win Big, Win Smart

Wise Winnings Aims to Help Lottery Winners with Financial Education

Good part: The Connecticut lottery contributed $418 million to state coffers last fiscal year.

Not so good part: Though the winnings from our state’s lottery contributes to public schools, infrastructure, and much more, its seamy underside is expansive. Scores of players are uninformed about the pitfalls and side effects of gambling.

With Wise Winnings, Westport’s Rob Simmelkjaer, Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Connecticut Lottery since May 2020, is taking action to educate them.

Growing up, his grandmother got a kick out of betting small-time and  routinely hit him up for numbers. Batting average? Locker number? He understands the thrill of a potential windfall when pursued sensibly.

But that’s not the situation for some players.

“When I first joined I wanted to understand how the lottery was helping people play games responsibly,” he explains. “We have an entire department dedicated to helping people with gambling issues.”

This department manages GameSense, an “innovative and comprehensive responsible gaming strategy… to help keep gambling fun for all players.” It includes information for spotting potential gambling addictions in oneself and others, resources to help with related problems, and tips such as “Play for entertainment, not to make money” and “Don’t borrow money to gamble.”

Though this has proven an effective tool for some problem ticket purchasers, it ignores a different part of the lottery population: the winners.

Reports indicate that up to 70% of lottery’s big winners suffer financial distress, including bankruptcy. Ill-advised investments, philanthropic largesse, and flagrant spending are among the many reasons why.

Rob asked, “How do [winners] make good decisions? No lottery had ever taken steps to help winners manage money.” Neither Connecticut nor any other state had a solution.

He teamed up with Christopher Davis, Head of Responsible Gaming at CT Lottery, to create a financial literacy program to help winners of $600 or more to make good decisions with their prize money.

At the High-Tier Claims Center, winners are given a brochure with suggestions for the use of their newfound wealth, leading with:

  1. Stop and think.
  2. Make a plan.
  3. Treat yourself (within reason). You deserve it!
  4. Seek professional financial advice.

The brochure, and the website, lists effective money management and resources, including a Credit Union call-out for financial counselors.

Future plans include a “Platinum Service” for million dollar winners and free check cashing; check cashing centers in the state typically charge a 2% fee.

Almost immediately after its launch on August 15 (coincidentally the day after National Financial Awareness Day) other states contacted Connecticut to learn more.

A important win for the CT Lottery.

  • Chairman Rob Simmelkjaer at a Wise Winnings press conference, with Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz. (Connecticut Lottery Corporation)
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  • Screen grab from