This is a disturbing story I read at http://www.click2houston.com/investigates/10284291/detail.html
HOUSTON -- Note: The following story is a verbatim transcript of a Troubleshooters story that aired on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006, on KPRC Local 2 at 10 p.m.
Local 2 investigates why hundreds of lottery winners aren't getting their money. We discovered players across the state being turned away when they try to cash their winning ticket.
KPRC Local 2 Investigative reporter Robert Arnold has spent the past six months uncovering how the state is letting this happen.
Local 2 Investigates talked with frustrated lottery winners and went to the Lottery Commission in Austin. While officials there know about the problem we discovered little is done to prevent winning tickets from turning up as losers.
"I'm real concerned about the whole process," lottery player Bill Mullen said.
Mullen has a winning lottery ticket he can't cash.
"It means a lot to me from a principle standpoint. It's my money," Mullen said.
After months of beating his head against the wall, he called Local 2 Investigates for help.
We checked Mullen's ticket ourselves and found it was a $3 winner. Armed with hidden cameras, we took Mullen's ticket to four convenience stores. Each one ran it through those blue boxes we all see which are hooked up directly to the Lottery Commission's master computer.
Clerk: "It says, 'Sorry not a winner.'"
Manager: "The machine doesn't lie."
Clerk: "This is not a winner."
Clerk: "That's all I can do."
"I mean if it's happening to me or my wife. How many other people is it happening to?" Mullen said.
Turns out, it happens often. Records obtained by Local 2 Investigates from the Texas Lottery Commission shows in the last four years nearly 1,000 people filed complaints about winning lottery tickets being denied. Fewer than half of these people ever got their money.
"The guy told me the Cash Five ticket was not a winner. I had him recheck it, he said it's not a winner," winner Carl Dauphin said.
Dauphin is just one of those complaints. Terry Mitchell is another.
"I went off. I told him give me my ticket and give me that slip," Mitchell said.
We couldn't understand how winners like Mullen weren't getting their money, so we followed Mullen as he fought to claim his prize.
Our hidden cameras followed Mullen to the Lottery Claim Center off the north loop, where clerks told him all he could do is file a complaint with Austin. So he went home, filled out the forms and sent them off.
Three weeks later he got a response.
"The pile gets deeper doesn't it? This is asinine," Mullen says.
The Lottery Commission's letter told Mullen his ticket was denied because somebody had already claimed the $3 prize. Mullen then called the Commission to find out who received his $3. We found the answer -- they don't know.
But the Lottery official on the other end of the line did tell him the store clerk who first scanned his ticket probably did it improperly.
"They don't realize that they're validating the ticket for a player and they give the player back the ticket and don't give the player their money," said the lottery representative on the phone. "We don't have any control over the integrity of our retailers. We can't control whether they're going to be honest or not with our players."
"This is not uncommon," says Leticia Vasquez, with the Texas Lottery Commission. "It has happened in the past quite a bit."
Vasquez blames the complaints on store employees. She says they aren't trained on how to use the machines , but Vasquez says the Lottery Commission can't force the retailers to take the state's training. As a result, only about 20 percent of retailers ever bother to get their employees trained on the machines.
"It's a little bit like herding cats. You can't always do it, although we try," Vasquez said.
Is it a case of retailers pocketing the cash or just honest mistakes due to a lack of training? Rarely does the Commission find out.
We discovered only about 40 percent of the complaints are followed up with a formal investigation. According to state records, most of the investigations into these complaints end because of "insufficient evidence."
The question the Lottery Commission can't answer is how many people has this happened to who didn't realize it or just didn't want the same hassle Mullen went through.
Mullen did finally get his $3. He says it was a matter of principle because it took him at least two months to collect that money.
The Lottery Commission will take money out of a retailers account if they determine a prize wasn't paid.
The Commission can also revoke a store's license to sell lottery tickets or even file criminal charges, but we've found that's only happened in a handful of cases.
We discovered the problem is happening with prizes below $600. That's because those tickets can be redeemed at any business that sells lottery tickets. Any prize higher than $600 has to be redeemed at an official Lottery Claim Center.
* Thoses who can, do *
* thoses who can't, just talk *