How the Biggest Winner in Bingo History Lost it All

Agnes O'Neill holds her bingo partner's winning card of 1.2 million from the National Bingo Game in 2008

Everybody knows at least one story about a gambler who hit their big jackpot win and raked in millions, only to turn around and blow it all over the next few months or even weeks. Scotland’s Soraya Lowell is history’s biggest bingo winner ever, and her story is unfortunately no different.

Business as usual at the bingo hall

Before Soraya Lowell was in the news as a famous bingo winner, she was just like everyone else. She worked for a cleaning company in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, which is near Glasgow in Scotland. While most bingo players these days spend their time at online bingo sites, Soraya and her neighbour Agnes O’Neil could be spotted most nights in the nearby Club 3000 in Coatbridge. The duo had agreed that they would split any winnings they earned while playing together at the Club 3000, and as luck would have it, they won.

Soraya and Agnes originally thought that they had won only £470, which is nothing to scoff at, but upon closer inspection of the filled-in card, Soraya realised that she had hit the “bumper” payout on the Top of the Shop 90 bingo. This meant that Soraya Lowell had just won over £1 million — £1,167,795 to be exact. This made Soraya the biggest winner, in both off- and online bingo, in the history of the game.

The rise of a bingo star

What does a cleaner from Lanarkshire do with over £1 million? What does anyone do when they win it big like that? It can be easy to think of all the extravagant things you would buy for yourself, such as a new car or house, but when you are in the shoes that Soraya was in at the time, it can be quite daunting.

It is not too rare that gambling partnerships fall apart around the time of a really big win. Often the winner will hide their jackpot or even simply refuse to honour their agreement. Soraya Lowell, however, proved herself to be trustworthy and honest, and she honoured her agreement with her neighbour Agnes O’Neil. They split the winnings right down the middle, with each woman receiving £583,898.

As with most big gambling wins, the press and everyone around her wanted a piece of Soraya Lowell. But she had no idea how she was going to use the money, stating that “It’s easy to say what you’re going to do with the money before you win it, but in reality it’s very tough. I haven’t got the slightest idea what to do with it.”

The early stages of spending

Cleaner Soraya Lowell sprays champagne after winning £1.2 million in the National Bingo Game in 2008

While Soraya had managed to walk away with over half a million pounds (before taxes), she didn’t exactly have the kind of money that can buy a super yacht and the endless horizons of a fabulous retirement. At the time of the win she was earning minimum wage at her job, that she loved very much, and had no intention of leaving. She had also recently bought a new car and said that she loved her house and her neighbourhood, so she had no plans on leaving there either.

Initially Soraya and her husband Frankie managed their money responsibly and didn’t buy anything extravagant; but that was until they decided to buy a new home. Despite already having the home of her dreams, Soraya and Frankie bought themselves a new dream house worth £150,000. Later they bought an ice cream truck, in the hopes that the truck could serve as a lucrative business venture.

Even millions can disappear

These, along with some other small purchases, meant that Frankie and Soraya’s bills began to grow – to the point where Frankie and Soraya had started to lose grip of their finances, and they couldn’t even pay their local taxes.

Soraya had gone from having a wealth of opportunity and potential to turn her hundreds of thousands of pounds into more, to receiving a court summons from the South Lanarkshire Council who sued the couple for £13,214 in unpaid taxes. On top of the court case the Lowell family had lost their home after falling behind on mortgage payments. The house was seized by the Bank of Scotland and put up for a sheriff’s auction.

Luckily for Soraya and Frankie they had not yet sold their previous home and were able to move back in. They met with South Lanarkshire Council’s debt advice service, after the council lawyers asked for them to be made bankrupt over the debts.

Soraya’s story of going from rags to riches, and swiftly back again, is not an uncommon one. It is easy to lose track of your finances and spend yourself into a hole if you aren’t managing your money properly.

How to avoid blowing your winnings

Close up of man’s hand working on professional service financial planning paper

There are a few quick and easy tips you can follow to help you manage your winnings properly and avoid running yourself into debt if you strike it lucky. Whether you play online bingo games or prefer to go to bingo halls, these tips will help to protect you from blowing your winnings:

  • Hire a financial advisor
  • Pay off any outstanding credit or debts
  • Don’t brag too much about your win
  • Avoid making rash decisions
  • Don’t make drastic lifestyle changes too quickly

These are only a few of the quick steps you can take to ensure that your winnings are protected and that you don’t blow it all in one go.

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