Losing Texas Lotto Players Who Want to Sue Are Following an American Tradition

Adults in Texas briefly thought they had won the lottery. Now they are struggling with disappointment, an unpleasant emotion. The Dallas Morning News reported about the plight of an Ellis County woman who felt "cautiously optimistic" that she was in possession of a winning ticket from the Fun 5's game. To confirm that it was actually a winner, she had to get it scanned at a gas station. The scanner had devastating news: She didn't win.

The woman's husband explained to the paper what happened in harrowing detail: "We were disappointed because the machine showed that it was not a winner, and we thought that it was a winner." Naturally, the couple has found a lawyer who thinks they have a good case.

Of course he does. Who hasn't considered suing the lottery? This is America. Two men in New York accidentally threw away their winning ticket and say it's the lottery's fault in a federal lawsuit they filed in June. A man in Delaware sued the lottery after his ticket was destroyed in the washing machine.

Back in 2007 a couple in the small Florida town of Ocala also thought they had a winning ticket. Sure, one of the winning numbers on the ticket also shared the box with a "th" and an "n," for some reason, but whatever. The couple drove to Tallahassee to get their money from the state and found out that the ticket didn't scan. (Advice: always scan before driving far to collect your winnings). Lotto officials said the random "th" and the "n" in the box showed the ticket was a misprint. The couple went to the media and threatened to sue. Five years later, they were still talking about suing.

"The lottery knew they were issuing misprints. And yet continued to allow it to happen," an attorney they hired told a news channel in 2012.

A decade ago there was a class action lawsuit out of Corpus Christi against the Texas Lotto Commission over a disclaimer on the back of scratch-off tickets that said: "A Scratch Off game may continue to be sold even when all the top prizes have been claimed." In other words, the lotto was still selling tickets to people even when the top prizes were no longer available. But people who didn't read the disclaimer didn't know that, hence the lawsuit.

The best lottery lawsuit story comes from Grand Prairie, courtesy of a resourceful man named Willis Willis. In 2009 Willis was "a man with a dream," according to the suit he filed two years later. His dreams were dashed when a convenience store clerk stole his $1 million winning lottery ticket. Prosecutors investigated the case and gave Willis $395,000, which is nice, but not $1 million. Willis moved to El Paso, hired an attorney and a publicist, then sued the convenience store and the Texas Lotto Commission for more money.

Dawn Nettles, the Garland woman behind The Lotto Report website and newsletter that's popular with Texas lotto players, is making the case that the confusion that recently tripped up the Ellis County couple isn't uncommon and should be taken seriously. She's encouraging her readers to send complaints to their local district attorney's office. Her sample complaint letter blames the confusion on the lotto tickets' instructions, which say: "Reveal three '5' symbols in any one row, column or diagonal win PRIZE in PRIZE box. Reveal a Money Bag symbol in the 5X BOX, win 5 times that PRIZE."

It's true, those sentences don't make much sense at all, though it's also probably unwise to put your hopes and dreams into them. The DMN shares the equally tragic story of a woman in Silsbee who did just that. A store clerk had told the Silsbee woman that both of her tickets were winners, a scenario that seems more unlikely than getting struck by lighting twice. Sure enough, when she scanned the tickets, "the message kept returning that it wasn't a winner." So she went to another convenience store. That store's machine also said the tickets weren't winners. Her next stop was contacting a state senator, who told the paper that he's going to talk about it with the Lottery Commission. In a state where things like raising the minimum wage and Medicaid remain unpopular with lawmakers, maybe making the lottery instructions less confusing is an initiative they can all get behind.