Friday, May 18, 2007

Lottery payout: $500,000 -- less attorney's fees and costs

Joe Curcio and his wife pulled off the Florida Turnpike for a cup of coffee at the Fort Drum Service Plaza. While they were there, they bought a $20 "Gold Rush" lottery ticket -- and it seemed they had a $500,000 winner, according to a story this morning on the Tampa Bay Fox TV station website.

(The AP story about Mr. Curcio's misfortune is also posted on Yahoo! News -- but Yahoo! News links tend to be short-lived.)

The AP reports, "The Gold Rush ticket has the numeral 1 on the top row and a numeral 1 above the $500,000 scratch-off piece, making the ticket appear to be a winner. But when Curcio had it scanned, the ticket's bar code indicated it wasn't." Instead, according to the story, Florida lottery officials now claim that the number 1 in the top row was a "misprint" -- it should have been the number 13.

Curcio has hired a lawyer. He has not yet turned over the ticket to lottery officials.

Lottery spokeswoman Jacqueline Barreiros said Curcio must turn over the ticket "for a full inspection." The AP story quotes Berreiros: "We can't say whether we will pay the jackpot or not until we go through the process," she said.

That sounds kind of ominous, doesn't it?

I venture no predictions, of course, on the success or failure of Mr. Curcio's efforts to collect on his Florida ticket. But I was curious as to what Illinois law might provide in a similar situation.

My quick research this morning led me to the Illinois Lottery Law, 20 ILCS 1605/1 et seq. Section 19 of the Lottery Law provides, in pertinent part, "Prizes for lottery games which involve the purchase of a physical lottery ticket may be claimed only by presentation of a valid winning lottery ticket that matches validation records on file with the Lottery; no claim may be honored which is based on the assertion that the ticket was lost or stolen. No lottery ticket which has been altered, mutilated, or fails to pass validation tests shall be deemed to be a winning ticket."

Indeed, if Mr. Curcio were in Illinois, and if it were determined that his ticket had been altered, he might be in a whole heap o' trouble. Section 14.2 of the Illinois Lottery Law provides, "Any person who, with intent to defraud, shall falsely make, alter, forge, utter, pass or counterfeit a lottery ticket or share issued by the State of Illinois under this Act shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony."

And how do we know what a would-be defrauder 'intended'? Section 14.2 provides further, "It shall be prima facie evidence of intent to defraud for a person to possess a lottery ticket or share issued by the State under this Act if he or she knows that ticket or share was falsely made, altered, forged, uttered, passed, or counterfeited."

(And, no, I have no idea what "uttered" means in the context of the foregoing sentence. Indeed, I suspected that I had somehow miscopied the text of the statute from Westlaw -- and I went back again just to be sure. How is a lottery ticket 'falsely uttered'?)

For our discussion, let's assume that the ticket has not been altered or forged. If it is truly a "misprint" it will not pass the Lottery's validation test -- necessary to secure a payout, according to the statute -- and in the actual case of Mr. Curcio in Florida, that seems to be what lottery officials there are suggesting.

So -- purely a guess on my part -- but if Mr. Curcio were presenting this same claim in Illinois he might not not recover against the Lottery because of the language of §19 of the Illinois Lottery Law.

But might the printer have some exposure here? And would the careless printer be found to owe a duty to an unknown ticket buyer?

What if the person who got the 'misprinted' ticket had a weak heart -- and died in the excitement?

Would a duty arise then?

This could become an interesting academic discussion -- but it probably already is a public relations nightmare for the Florida Lottery.

Assuming Mr. Curcio innocently bought a misprinted ticket, I would venture -- fearless prediction here -- that the Florida lottery officials may try and settle the matter with him for something less than the whole $500,000 prize and then go after the printer themselves. That might be a good way to recover from the negative publicity and maybe even generate a positive spin on it all.

It might even boost sales: Who knows how many misprinted tickets are out there? (But I'll bet they can find out....)

No, I wouldn't want to be the printer (or its liability insurer) this morning.

I seem to recall similar "misprint" issues involving scratch and win games offered by restaurants or soft drink companies... but I don't know how these were resolved.

Can anybody help me out on this?

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