Mega Mistakes: Lawsuits Against the Ohio Lottery Commission

Big Ticket Items:

If you are like roughly 50% of the rest of Americans, then “winning the lottery” is a cornerstone of your retirement strategy.  Of the $70 billion or so worth of tickets sold in 2016 (Americans spend more on lotto tickets every year than the individual GDPs of 118 countries), $2.7 billion is spent by Ohioans.  That’s a lot of scratch-offs.  And yes, you read that right, Americans spend more on the lottery than MOST countries produce.

Who Gets a Share in the Office Pool?

With so much money flying around, it seems like there would be a lot of litigation involving lottery claims.  Well- there is.  Sort of.  Most lawsuits seem to involve office pools with a set of facts similar to the following:

Jim, Bob, and Jane all work at Company X.  The three have been in an office lotto pool for years.  One day, Jim finds out he bought the winning ticket, but only Jim and Jane chipped in money that day since Bob was out sick. Jim and Jane claim the prize and leave Bob out of it.  Bob sues Jim and Jane on the grounds that he should be entitled to a share of the award.

Under Ohio law, these kinds of suits can be brought in your local county court and the judge or jury can decide who the rightful prize-winner/s are based on past conduct, written agreements or records, etc.   Yes- this does happen, and people sue each other over it: http://www.10tv.com/article/lottery-lawsuit-winner-offers-advice-workers-office-pools

Suing the Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC)

However, it is exceedingly rare for lottery players to sue the Ohio Lottery Commission, but it does happen.  In fact, since 1975, only 88 lawsuits have been brought against the OLC, and many of those suits were unrelated to gaming.  These suits must be brought in the Ohio Court of Claims, a special court set up specifically to handle claims against Ohio’s State agencies.

Here is a list of the more interesting cases from the last twenty years or so:

Demetriades v. OLC, 2017-00705

Plaintiff purchased ticket and wins $500, then promptly loses ticket.  In an incredible example of selectively optimistic memory, plaintiff remembers that prize was worth $500,000 and sues the OLC.  OLC is able to recreate records of ticket and proves that it was only worth $500.  Plaintiff still able to purchase 500 items from the Dollar Tree.

Estate of Keefe v. OLC, 2017-10035

Plaintiff wins 5 million dollar jackpot.  Clerical error on OLC’s claim form states that the prize was 6 million dollars.  Plaintiff paid 5 million, sues OLC for an additional 1 million on theory that claim form signed by OLC employee amounted to a contract.  Result?  OLC wins, contract forms at time of purchase of ticket and ticket holder is only entitled to the actual prize amount certified by the director of the OLC.  Winner died during the case, apparently heartbroken for only having 5 million dollars instead of 6 million.

Maffett v. OLC, 2004-09967; Freiling, et al v. OLC, 2003-11275; Constani et al v. OLC, 2003-11615

These three cases were filed shortly after a widespread ticket misprint made apparent winners in the amounts of $2,500, $50,000, and $2,000,000 respectively.

All three ticket buyers were denied their claims and offered a refund of their ticket price.  All three sued and lost for the same reason- misprinted tickets are invalid under Ohio law.  Not to worry, the OLC refunded the price of the ticket.  No word on whether any of them spent it on another ticket.

Dabaja v. OLC, et al., 2012-08567

Four people claim all claimed to have purchased a 2 million dollar winning ticket and submitted claim forms.  Plaintiff sues the OLC and his co-claimants, who happen to be his ex-wife and two of his family members, to be declared the winner (like Highlander, he believed there could be only one).

Other claimants fail to answer the lawsuit and Plaintiff settles the case and goes home with his lump sum payment (about $700,000).  Unclear if Thanksgiving was awkward at the Dabaja household.

Palmer et al., v. OLC, 2002-0778; ORC 3770.07(D)

Creditors had a court-ordered structured settlement agreement with a lotto winner which paid the creditors a percent of lottery annuity payments.   The OLC was aware of the structured settlement between the winner and the creditors.  Lotto winner defaulted on her payments to creditors and creditors sue OLC for failing to make payments directly to the creditors.

The result was judgment for the OLC- the rights of a prize winner are NOT assignable, garnishable, or attachable, unless by a court order for payment of child support or to an estate.  Because- it says so right in the statute.  A court can otherwise determine the rightful prize winner/s (for example, multiple claimants in an office pool), but courts are not entitled to assign a winner’s rights to anyone else once the winner is determined.  The creditors in this case happened to be lawyers, so of course no real harm was done.

Final Thoughts

What’s the lesson here?  There isn’t one, but as a legal concept “the lottery” is an interesting foray into contract formation.  Just remember- if you’re in an office pool, keep a record of your agreement and participants, and don’t tell off your boss before you get your prize money in hand. Also- think about hiring an accountant and a lawyer before you run off and buy that gold-plated jet ski.  Good luck!

 

-Posted by CCI

 

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