Texas Winners Told Tickets Are Losers
Watch & Read News Story As It Appeared
KPRC Local 2 Investigates (Houston)
Posted April 3, 2009
Houston's KPRC Local 2 Investigates Texas Lottery
HOUSTON -- Millions of people play the Lotto hoping to hit it big, but Local 2 Investigates discovered some lottery winners are being told their tickets are losers. This is a problem we exposed two years ago, yet it is still happening.
Local 2 investigative reporter Robert Arnold explained the problem and has some tips to keep your winning ticket from becoming a loser.
Kenneth Eichner bought a winning lottery ticket he cannot cash. Eichner bought his ticket on New Year's Eve, but when he went to a store to have a clerk scan it into one of those blue validation boxes, he was told his winning ticket was a loser.
"(The clerk) tried to put the ticket in, didn't work, then she put the numbers in and quickly said it's not a winner," said Eichner. "It just seemed wrong."
Eichner said the clerk then threw his ticket in the trash, but he was suspicious so he asked to get the ticket back.
"Because she threw it away so quickly, it just didn't smell right," said Eichner.
Eichner then took the ticket home and checked his numbers against the winning numbers posted on the Texas Lottery Commission's Web site. The numbers matched for a $3 winner.
"It's not about the money. It's about the principle of it, and I felt I should do something about it," said Eichner.
Eichner filed a complaint with the Texas Lottery Commission, and he is not alone. Two years ago, Local 2 Investigates exposed hundreds of complaints from players across Texas claiming their winning tickets were denied.
The Lottery Commission made changes after our series of reports to help cut down on this type of complaint. One of those changes included requiring clerks to print out two receipts every time a ticket is scanned. One receipt goes to the store; the other goes to the player so the person can see for themselves if their ticket was a winner. However, not everyone working behind the counter got the message.
"I've never had anybody give me a receipt," said Eichner.
The problem comes with the training of those who work behind a store counter and use the validation machines. There are 16,000 licensed lottery retailers in Texas. Each retailer goes through a lengthy training process.
"Then when you multiply that out by the number of people who work behind that counter, hopefully they're getting the information about what they're supposed to do when validating that ticket," said Bobby Heith, with the Texas Lottery Commission.
When it comes to complaints like Eichner's, it is up to the Lottery Commission to figure out if a clerk pocketed the winnings or just made a mistake when scanning the ticket. However, the Lottery Commission is not always able to find out exactly what happened. (Also, LOTTERY TERMINALS ERR - it's not always the clerk)
"Sometimes it gets into a 'He said, she said,' and it's kind of hard to make that determination," said Heith.
There is another way to make sure this type of problem does not happen with your ticket. All of the validation terminals are now required to play tones whenever a ticket is scanned. For example, a winning ticket will play the tune to "You're in the Money."
Still, some players do not know to listen for those different tones. (Not all terminals have these tones - so BEWARE)
Officials with the Lottery Commission told Local 2 they are still investigating Eichner's complaint.
Lottery officials urge all players to listen for those special tones every time a ticket is scanned by the machine and to insist the store provide a receipt showing whether a ticket is a winner or a loser.
(FEW clerks give players their receipts. And some clerks keep receipts from other non winning ticket transactions to give the customer should he ask for a receipt. You must confirm that the receipt you are getting matches the ticket that was actually given to the clerk. The ONLY way to protect yourself is to CHECK YOUR OWN TICKET and give it to clerks to cash in for you. You can NOT trust the terminals - they do err and clerks do steal players winnings. One sign of a crooked clerk is IF he asks you how much you've won. It could be that you really won more than you thought and he's trying to find out what you expect to receive. In some cases, they are trying to figure out if they have enough cash on hand to pay the prize - you have to make the determination as to which is the case.)
Officials with the Lottery Commission said if this is not happening at your store, then you can file a complaint by calling 800-37-LOTTO. (Players can't "file a complaint" by "calling" the TLC. Complaints are ONLY recorded IF the complaint is received in writing.)
Also, complaints about ticket validation are happening only with prizes under $600. Any ticket earning a prize above $600 has to be cashed at an official Lottery Claim Center.
Message To Lottery Players
I cannot begin to tell you how many times - over many years - I have requested that the Texas Lottery forbid clerks from checking players lottery tickets.
Not only have I gone to the Texas Lottery, but I have gone to the Sunset Commission, the State Auditors Office and to quite a few Texas Legislators about this very issue - all requests fell upon deaf ears.
I have asked for a law to be written on this very issue - to no avail.
As early as 1999, I posted a list of things that the Texas Lottery needed to either do, or stop doing to either be fair to players or to protect players. (The link in the sentence above shows you ONLY one place this can be found on my website)
I have posted so many warnings to players about checking their own tickets - do not under any circumstances let someone else or ANY computer check your tickets. Check them yourself.
I have spent countless hours advising players NOT to use those web sites that gives players the so-called programs allowing you to "CHECK YOUR NUMBERS" via a database on the internet. This is because ONE incorrect number typed in by a "human" can cause players to throw away a winning ticket. Humans make mistakes even those who work at the lottery.
And please notice that NONE (that I've seen) of these "Check Your Numbers" features warn players by disclaimers that they are not responsible for any errors - they don't expect players to ever dream there could be a mistake. And they don't want to alert you to that possibility either. They don't want to DECREASE their unclaimed prize funds.
And don't think for one minute that the lotteries data bases are error free - because, clearly, they are NOT. And this is where you find these CHECK YOUR NUMBERS programs.
ONE incorrect number typed in by the player can result in a player throwing away a winning ticket. Do you have any idea how easy it is to make a typo?
Don't trust clerks to check your tickets either. They steal ... If you only knew how many people they see every day and the clerks know that the players have no idea what numbers were drawn. It is soooo easy for them to lie not to mention - tempting. Many clerks remain store clerk because of the "fringe benefits" of working there!
And finally, if clerks stealing is not bad enough, lottery terminals err in scanning tickets too. I have tickets and receipts that proves lottery terminals err. Sometimes, the lottery has admitted it but most of the time, they deny it. Those scanners are no different than the scanners you find in grocery stores. How many times have you seen a grocery store clerk have to type in a bar code in order to charge you for the product you are buying? Well, in the case of the lottery terminals that err, UNFORTUNATELY, the terminals say "NOT A WINNER" when the scanner errs. Clerks respond and report to you whatever message they get.
To make my point VERY clear - did you know that when the winner of a HUGE Mega Millions jackpot went to claim his prize in Ohio, when the Ohio Lottery scanned his ticket, the terminal said "NOT A WINNER." He knew better and the lottery said it was just a "hick-up in the computer system" - well, I don't believe that.
Personally, I believe it was suppose to say that as I believe the validation code was changed in HOPES that whoever held that ticket was a player who didn't check his own tickets but depended on the clerks or terminals to check the tickets for him. I often wonder IF this is why we have so many unclaimed JACKPOT winning tickets that go unclaimed. Of course, no one could ever PROVE this.
In closing, let me say, when it comes to MONEY, there is only one person you can trust - and that is yourself.
Check your own tickets.
(All About the Lotteries)