UPDATE: "Winner" was actually undercover inspector
By Todd Northrop
The search is on for a lottery winner in California who walked away with a much smaller prize than he actually won.
A man who went to cash out his Wild West Poker scratch-off lottery ticket at a Palmdale, California, gas station was given $75, but his ticket was actually worth $75,000.
Officials are trying to track down the man who went into a Palmdale store and was thousands of dollars short of his winnings.
Shamsun Hahar Islam, the Palmdale gas station manager, said the cashier misread the numbers on the machine.
"He gave the ticket to my cashier, and the cashier, he put it in the machine. And it looks like a 75 because he's focusing on the 75. He didn't focus on the zero," Islam said.
The man just took his money and left, and that's when the cashier realized his mistake.
The cashier called Islam right away. Russ Lopez with the California Lottery said he was contacted and the organization is conducting a slow, but thorough investigation.
"We have been contacted, but we haven't had enough time to get all the answers," said Russ Lopez of the California State Lottery.
The winner turned in the ticket March 25 but didn't sign the back of the ticket — so the recently released surveillance video is playing a big part in identifying him.
"If he cannot claim, then it goes back to the lottery company. I feel bad. I feel bad. I want to give him the ticket," Islam said.
The winner has six months to claim the full prize.
FLASH: "Winner" was actually undercover inspector
In a sudden twist of events, the California Lottery announced Monday that the "winner" of the $75,000 scratch-off prize was actually an uncover inspector for the lottery, and the Palmdale gas station has been placed under investigation.
The gas station released surveillance video of the purported winner on Sunday in an effort to identify the man and reward him his rightful earnings, the station's manager said.
But the video actually shows an undercover investigator from the California Lottery on an inspection stop, according to Russell Lopez, a deputy director for the lottery.
"This is an odd situation," Lopez said. "We don't want the public looking for a winner that doesn't exist."
So on Monday, lottery officials were forced to acknowledge the man seen in the video was an undercover compliance investigator and the gas station a current target of a state investigation.
Taken from behind the register, the video shows a man in a brown short-sleeved shirt and a backwards baseball cap waiting as the clerk examines the ticket and hands over cash. The interaction, which appears to take a few minutes, occurred March 25 at a Chevron station on Sierra Highway at East Avenue S.
"Since the store held onto the ticket, it appears the ticket was mishandled," Lopez said in a brief statement. "We are currently investigating this case."
The California State Lottery Act requires year-round compliance checks "to protect our business, our players, and yes, our retailers," Lopez said. Compliance is 98 percent, meaning almost all retailers "act with integrity and honesty," Lopez said.
Chevron station manager Shamsun Islam said the clerk realized his mistake after the apparent ticket-holder left.
The man had turned in a ticket for the top prize in the Wild West Poker Scratchers game. Players have a one in 1,196,120 chance of winning the $75,000 prize, according to the lottery's website for the game.
"He feels so bad," Islam said of the clerk.
The clerk immediately called Islam, who in turn called her boss, who instructed her to call California Lottery officials. Shamsun said lottery officials said someone would come by to pick up the ticket.
After several weeks, when no one appeared, she reached out to news media to try to find the man she believed was owed $75,000.
No determination has been made as to the intent of the gas station clerk or manager, Lopez said. He told the Los Angeles Times that officials were trying to determine if authorities were ever notified about the ticket, and if any fraud was committed.
Until Shamsun went public with the surveillance video, officials had been waiting to see if anyone would try to file a claim on the $75,000, the Times reported.
Islam, meanwhile, urged lottery players to always fill out the fields for name and contact information on their tickets.