The Rise and Fall of History’s Biggest Bingo Winner

Shocked Woman With Hands on Face With Bingo Background

Bingo isn’t usually the first game that people think of when they envision big jackpots wins. However, this game does occasionally deliver some huge payouts.

Case in point, Scotland’s Soraya Lowell once collected £1,167,795 through a bingo game. She became the biggest bingo winner in history in the process.

Unfortunately, Lowell didn’t hang onto her windfall long afterward. I’m going to discuss more on her huge win along with why she blew through the fortune so quickly.

Honoring a Partnership

Prior to making bingo history, Soraya Lowell worked for a cleaning company in Hamilton, Lanarkshire (near Glasgow). She frequently played bingo at the nearby Club 3000 in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.

Lowell visited this bingo hall with her neighbor, Agnes O’Neill. The two agreed to split any big winnings they might earn.

Their luck would come on a fateful night in March 2008. While playing “Top of the Shop 90,” Lowell hit the “bumper” payout.

The 38-year-old originally thought that she’d only won £470. But after staring at the card, she later realized that she won a massive £1,167,795 prize.

Gambling partnerships don’t always work out as planned. Sometimes, a big winner will hide their jackpot or just flat-out refuse to honor any pre-arranged agreements.

Lowell, however, proved herself trustworthy by honoring the agreement with the 68-year-old O’Neill. She split the payment right down the middle with each side receiving £583,898.

Unsure About What to Do With the Money

Soraya didn’t earn quite enough to buy a yacht and sail off into the sunset. However, she did win the kind of money that would make one start considering retirement.

She was earning minimum wage for her cleaning job at the time. But Lowell also enjoyed the job and those she worked with.

“I really love my job and said right away I didn’t have any plans to leave,” stated Soraya.

While Lowell might have immediately decided to stick with her current job, she wasn’t sure what to do with the money.

Bingo Sign on a Brick Wall

“It’s easy to say what you’re going to do with the money before you win it,” she explained. “But in reality it’s very tough. I haven’t got the slightest idea what to do with it.”

Lowell was in the enviable position of not really needing the money at the time. She already had the house, car, and neighborhood that she wanted.

“I had bought a car just before I won, so I don’t need a new one and I love my house and my neighbors so moving is out of the question,” said Soraya. “[…] But for now, the money will be staying in the bank.”

Change of Heart

Soraya and her husband, Frankie, were initially responsible with their winnings. However, they eventually started spending Lowell’s windfall at a rapid rate

After previously saying she had the home of her dreams, Soraya decided to purchase a house worth £150,000. This decision didn’t initially seem like a bad idea when considering that she’d won well over half a million pounds before taxes.

The couple also purchased an ice cream truck in 2009. They’d hoped that the ice cream truck could turn into a lucrative business opportunity.

The bills began mounting, though, and creditors came calling. Soon, Soraya and Frankie couldn’t even pay their local taxes.

South Lanarkshire Council sued the couple for £13,214 in unpaid taxes in 2012. The council sent legal papers threatening that the Lowell’s would be sequestrated if they didn’t pay in a timely manner.

Soraya and Frankie also lost their four-bedroom home after falling behind on mortgage papers. The Bank of Scotland seized the house and put it up for a sheriff’s auction.

The couple met with South Lanarkshire Council’s debt advice service to work out their financial troubles. They also moved back into their old home, which hadn’t been sold yet.

The Lowell’s weren’t the only tragedy from this big bingo win. Agnes O’Neill, who’d received an equal £13 payout, passed away just two months after receiving her money.

O’Neill’s widow, John, found her dead in bed in July 2008. She didn’t get an opportunity to spend much of her bingo fortune.

Tips to Avoid Blowing a Gambling Jackpot

Things didn’t turn out well for Soraya Lowell financially despite collecting £583,898. But you can avoid repeating her mistakes after a big win by following the tips below.

Hire a Financial Advisor

Unless you’re a finance professional, you shouldn’t be managing six or seven figures on your own. Instead, the better route is to look for a financial advisor.

The latter can help you determine the best ways to spend your money over the long run. They can also talk you out of making impulse purchases that’ll quickly drain your money.

If the prize is big enough, you might consider hiring other professionals too. For example, a lawyer can help you avoid getting entangled in frivolous lawsuits from those who want a chunk of your cash.

Pay Off Credit Cards & Other Debts

Your first thought shouldn’t be what dream car or house you want to purchase. Instead, you should be thinking about how to reduce your debt.

Credit cards are the best place to start. You want to banish these high-interest-bearing debts immediately.

From here, you’ll strongly want to consider getting rid of student loans, a mortgage, car payments, and anything else that’s a long-term burden.

Don’t Brag About Your Win

You don’t want to boast about winning a huge gambling prize. Otherwise, you’ll suddenly have second and third cousins coming out of the woodwork asking for loans.

You might feel the need to tell close family members and friends. But you definitely shouldn’t post anything about your prize on social media.

Additionally, you also want to consider the unwanted press that gambling wins bring. Soraya Lowell might have been on cloud nine when she first spoke to British media.

However, I’m sure that she didn’t enjoy having her financial troubles become page-one news four years later. If you don’t want to be in the press, then you should keep your win as private as possible.

Closeup of Hands on Bingo Cards

Avoid Rash Decisions

Going back to Soraya again, she initially made a smart decision by not spending her money too quickly. However, she threw all caution out the window after buying an ice cream truck and an expensive home.

The best option after winning big is to take your time when making decisions. Even a seven-figure prize can quickly vanish if you’re not strategic in spending it.

You might also want to keep your day job in the meantime. The last thing you want to do is immediately quit and transition to full-time money-spender.

Don’t Make Drastic Lifestyle Changes

Continuing off the last point, you should also avoid the temptation to completely change how you live. If monthly Caribbean vacations and sports cars weren’t part of your previous life, then they shouldn’t immediately enter the equation after winning.

Drastic changes like these can quickly go from splurges to becoming permanent. However, you stand a better chance of making good decisions by continuing to live the same way—at least for a while anyways.

Prepare for an Emotional Struggle

Winning a big gambling prize seems like a dream that’ll solve all of life’s problems. However, you can read about curses and horror stories regarding progressive slots and lottery wins to find out this isn’t always the case.

Not every result from winning is desirable. People may want loans, scammers will come, and (unwarranted) lawsuits could be leveled.

Charities and strangers with sob stories may also hound you over a piece of the winnings. Therefore, you must prepare for the stress of success if your story ever does go public.


Thanks to her £1.17 million prize, Soraya Lowell still stands as history’s biggest bingo winner. However, she’s also infamous for blowing all of her winnings.

To be fair, she did honor a previous arrangement with Agnes O’Neill by splitting the payout 50/50. But Soraya then proceeded to go through the remaining £583,898 in quick fashion.

You may never have to worry about winning and managing this kind of money. If you ever do, though, then you’ll want to follow sound advice in keeping your fortune.

The first step involves hiring professionals to help you navigate through the money management process. You should also keep your win as quiet as possible to avoid attracting beggars.