Admit it — whenever the arrival of a multimillion-dollar lottery prize permeates the news headlines, you’ve entertained the notion (even if it was for a split second) about how much fun it would be to snag that XXL-sized jackpot. However, for many people who abruptly find their fantasy becoming a cash-heavy reality, the burden of becoming incredibly rich without warning often comes with complications.
And that’s where the Connecticut Lottery Corp. (CLC) comes in. CLC has teamed with Credit Unions Building Financial Independence, the charitable nonprofit arm of the Credit Union League of Connecticut, to launch “Wise Winnings,” a first-of-its-kind financial literacy and educational campaign designed to offer no-cost financial advice to Connecticut Lottery cash prize-winners.
Rob Simmelkjaer, chairman of the CLC board of directors, explained that Wise Winnings was designed to build upon the state’s platform of “ensuring that people play our games responsibly and have good outcomes” by addressing how a lottery windfall could be used to its best advantage.
“In the last fiscal year, the lottery returned over $900 million in prize money to players,” Simmelkjaer said. “That’s a lot of money to land in people’s pockets. And, of course, many of them are small prizes, in the hundreds or maybe thousands where it’s not life changing. But a lot of them are quite significant, especially for lower- and middle-income people. So, I started thinking about ways that we could help people plan for money that they just found, instead of just spending it all.”
Simmelkjaer credited Chris Davis, CLC’s head of government relations, with the idea of partnering with Connecticut’s credit unions on this endeavor. Bruce Adams, president and CEO of the Credit Union League of Connecticut, believed that his financial services sector was uniquely qualified for this initiative.
“Credit unions, since their inception, were designed to bring access to banking services to people of limited means or underserved populations,” Adams said. “It was a natural fit for us when we started talking to help people make choices to gain financial independence.”
Adams added that the shock of going from a state of financial struggle to receiving a sudden influx of money can create bewilderment.
“We started charting a course to figure out how we can take somebody who, for instance, may have won $5,000 — which can be life changing for people — and help them not only learn how to spend it wisely, but maybe make some choices that will give them a greater cushion in the future.”
According to Simmelkjaer, Wise Winnings will provide educational material to those who claim and receive their lottery winnings.
“It will have information on choices they can make, things they can do with the money — whether it’s paying off credit card debt, improving their housing situation, opening a 529 college savings plan. And then in addition to that, it will also point them in the direction of credit unions in their in their area where they can go and speak to a certified financial adviser.”
The initiative will also include the new WiseWinnings.com website that provides online access to resources for consideration.
Adams noted that lottery winners do not need to be members of a credit union in order to seek out financial information assistance.
“We’ll sit down with the person for free and have those conversations about what is in their best interest,” he said. “We really look forward to the opportunity to getting people to stop and think before they spend.”