Texas state district court judge Stephen Yelenosky rejected a request by lottery watchdog Dawn Nettles to take the pre-suit deposition of representatives of the Texas Lottery Commission and lottery operator GTECH Corporation. Nettles, holder of what she believes are multiple winning Fun 5’s scratch-off tickets, argued that the TLC and GTECH should be forced to divulge information about who was responsible for language on the tickets that players interpreted as making them game winners but which the TLC claims actually made them losers.
Averaging more than $3 million in weekly ticket sales since it was introduced on September 1st, the Fun 5’s scratch-off game was one of the Texas Lottery’s top selling games. However, angry consumers began complaining to their State Representatives when their winning tickets were rejected as losers. On October 21st, the Lottery Commission announced it would be prematurely ending the game because of what it described as “confusion regarding certain aspects of this popular game.”
The dispute arises from the language used on Game 5 of the Fun 5’s tickets. The instructions appear to provide two separate and independent ways to win a prize. “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.” Lottery officials now say that in order to win 5 times the prize, you must not only reveal a Money Bag symbol, you must also reveal three “5” symbols in a row.
Richard LaGarde, one of the attorneys for Ms. Nettles and for over 400 additional lottery players, argues that the lottery is not being fair to lottery players. “These folks spent their hard-earned money for lottery tickets. They were promised that if their ticket revealed a Money Bag symbol they would win five times the prize amount shown on the ticket. Now the lottery commission wants to take away their winnings by adding the words “If you also” to the second sentence of the game instructions. That’s not fair to the hundreds of folks who truly believe they have winning tickets. You don’t re-write the rules to a game after you’ve already taken the consumers’ money. If the lottery is not open and fair in all respects, it loses legitimacy in the eyes of the people and their elected representatives.”
Judge Yelenosky’s ruling did not comment on the merits of Nettles’ case. It simply means that Nettles and hundreds of her fellow lottery players will now have to file suit to find out who is responsible for choosing the language used on the tickets and for programming the lottery’s computers to reject their winning tickets.