Monday, November 02, 2009

Maybe It's Not His Lucky Day

I don't know how far this story has traveled past the borders of Texas, but it certainly merits discussion: A guy in Grand Prairie with the unusual name of Willis Willis bought a Mega Millions lottery ticket back in May. After the drawing was held, he went back to the convenience store where he bought the ticket (the unfortunately-named Lucky Foods, also in Grand Prairie) and gave it to the clerk to have him check to see if it was a winner. The clerk, Pankaj Joshi, told him it was not a winner.

But Joshi was lying; the ticket was actually a $1 million dollar winner, which Joshi cashed in himself and subsequently fled the country.

When Willis found this out, he went to the Texas Lottery Commission to claim his rightful prize. But the commission had already paid out that prize, to Joshi; what were they to do? Well, even though their own investigators consider Willis to be the rightful winner, the commission decided yesterday that the real winner was Joshi, because he cashed in the ticket--even though he's since been indicted on theft charges, never mind that whole skipped-the-country thing.

But it's likely that Willis will not go home empty-handed:
The Travis County district attorney's office jumped into the fray Monday evening, saying in no uncertain terms that Willis won the lottery.

"That's Mr. Willis' money. He was the true winner," said Assistant District Attorney Patty Robertson.

And the office promises to put its money where its mouth is – Robertson said $365,000 that has been seized from the store clerk's bank accounts will be turned over to Willis as soon as the paperwork goes through.
Good for them. And I'm afraid that might be the only doable solution to this messy problem. As some commenters to the linked story point out, the lottery probably doesn't have much choice here; if they give in on this one, people will come out of the woodwork every time there's a big winner, claiming someone stole the winning ticket from them. It could get really messy, really quickly. They probably have to take the small PR hit in this case to avoid such things down the road.

Maybe--and this is unfortunate, if true--the moral of the story is, don't trust the clerk. After all, there are plenty of other ways that Willis could have checked his results:
  • He could have bought a newspaper and checked the results there.

  • He could have gone to a local library, gotten on the Internet, and checked the results at the Lottery's website.

  • He could have used one of the "Check Your Ticket" machines that are frequently found in many lottery retailers.
Granted, it could be argued that the store was acting on behalf of the state, and the state should regulate its agents more carefully (was there any way that the commission could have known that it was awarding a ticket to one of its own agents?), but again, it's not like Willis was forced to hand his ticket to the clerk.

I'm sitting on the fence as far as this story goes. What do you think? Hit the comment button and chime in.

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