What Lessons Can We Learn From Spin-Instructor-Turned-Idaho-Powerball-Lottery Winner Brad Duke?

Evan Lambert

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When you suddenly come upon a little extra money, it can be hard to stay focused and make wise, rational decisions. Caught up in the excitement of that raise or big sale or major new job, you don’t think about the repercussions. You just want to run out and buy the whole bar a round.

Winning the lottery is that times a thousand.

Still, some lottery winners manage to plan ahead and turn their wins into more wins. That’s exactly what Brad Duke did.

A welcome windfall from Powerball

Duke, an Idaho native, led a full but ordinary life — track-and-field in high school, a practical career in personal training after college. To go from ordinary to extraordinary, he’d need a little luck. You can’t base your future plans on an assumption that you’ll win the lottery, but the Gold’s Gym spin instructor had a feeling. He kept playing the lottery, winning small prizes here and there, until one day he reeled in the big one.

He won $220 million in the Idaho Powerball Lottery in 2005.

Of course, Duke took advantage of his newfound wealth. At one point, he took 17 of his friends to Tahiti for a luxe tropical holiday. He also bought a lot of bikes.

He even chose to take his win as a lump-sum payment, garnering $85 million instead of the full $220 million via an annuitized payout — a move that some financial advisers caution against.

But for the most part, Duke acted unlike those countless lottery winners who squander their money.

As Duke lived in Idaho, the law required him to go public about his win; still, he kept his head down and avoided too much publicity. “The phones were ringing off the hook,” Duke told KTVB in 2022. “But I think I kept teaching spin class for over a year. So, I was still showing up and working twice a week on some level for well over a year.”

Keeping his job and being patient and prudent allowed Duke to make some money moves that paid off big time.

How Duke went from millionaire to billionaire

Duke’s first decision, to stay at his job as a spinning instructor, was actually not at all unusual. A 2004 research study showed that 85% of American lottery winners chose to stay in the workplace in some capacity.

But it was Duke’s next move that showed he had really thought things through.

In addition to mostly avoiding extravagant purchases, Duke assembled an army of trusted financial advisers, who encouraged him to spend $45 million on low-risk investments and $35 million on high-risk assets.

He also used $1.3 million to create the charitable organization the Duke Family Foundation. Consisting of Duke’s extended family, community members, and advisers, the foundation helped Duke and his loved ones spearhead projects in the area, even as he grew his fortune. Among his initiatives were an improved stadium at his former high school, a series of youth mentorship programs, and an annual golf tournament/fundraiser called the Windfall Classic.

Meanwhile, his investment strategy paid off. By 2016, he was a billionaire.

Tips and takeaways

Though it’s not typically recommended to take a lump sum after a lottery win, Duke made it work for him by investing most of it instead of spending wildly. That’s where many lottery winners go wrong — they get greedy and want their lump sum so that they can start buying mansions. Duke had the occasional splurge purchase, but he mostly squirreled away his chunk of money to guarantee future payouts — adopting the same philosophy as someone taking the annuity instead of the lump sum.

He also didn’t let his Powerball win go to his head: By keeping his job, he was able to approach his situation rationally even as he planned what to do with his new fortune.

And finally, by creating the Duke Family Foundation, he could reap the tax benefits of owning a charity. He could potentially reduce his income tax and estate tax and avoid capital gains taxes.

It’s no wonder that Duke is often referenced as a shining example of a successful lottery winner. His story is proof that with careful planning, level-headedness — and, of course, some exceptional luck — anything is possible.