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Georgia Lottery denies millions in prizes to winners of scratch-off games

Georgia LotteryGeorgia Lottery: Georgia Lottery denies millions in prizes to winners of scratch-off games
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The Georgia Lottery Commission has refused to pay more than $17.1 million in scratch-off game prizes since 2014 — the year lottery officials instituted a policy of investigating big-money winners.

The lottery has issued 270 denial letters to winners of $1,000 or more in the past four years, citing a variety of suspicions that could be fraud: people who claim multiple winning games in a relatively short period of time; winners who can't identify where or when the game was purchased; or individuals who are untruthful about having relationships with store owners who sell the games.

But a handful of lawsuits, challenging million-dollar denials, are testing the agency's ability to withhold prize money without specific evidence of cheating.

The suits claim the lottery's system of investigating winners is discriminatory — that they "interrogate" winners who often have trouble speaking and understanding English, then seize on small discrepancies in the answers to unjustly deny awards.

A review of the denial letters found 63 percent were issued to people of Indian, Asian or Hispanic descent. People with the common last name Patel make up 23 percent of the denials, according to the analysis.

Lottery officials claim there is no inherent discrimination in the procedures, which they say are necessary to maintain fairness for everyone who plays.

"We take each (prize) application as we see it, each application stands on its own merits," said Joe Kim, the lottery's general counsel. "I don't think it's appropriate for anyone to draw conclusions about how we treat ethnic groups based on 270 denial letters.

"We process more than 100,000 claims a year."

Kim declined to answer additional questions because of the pending litigation. But in a Nov. 29 deposition for a lawsuit contesting his denial of a $5 million prize, Kim said the agency has five investigators who interview prize winners when suspicions are raised.

He also said the lottery does not provide interpreters during interviews, nor are they recorded. The decision of whether to pay a prize is Kim's alone, although the investigators provide input, according to the deposition.

"I don't consider race, origin, gender, anything" when determining whether to pay a prize, Kim said in the deposition. "I just consider the facts."

Attorneys suing the lottery aren't so sure.

Mark Spix, an attorney who has clashed with Kim and the lottery during his representation of store owners who lease coin-operated slot machines, said the law doesn't support Kim's refusal to pay because of mere suspicion that the person claiming the prize did not buy the game.

Spix also said the lottery needs to provide interpreters and recorded interviews to make sure the questions and answers are clear and documented. He and attorney Jared Lina represent Ramilaben Patel in a suit claiming that a $5 million prize was unjustly withheld.

"The other thing is we think the process needs to be taken away from Joe Kim," Spix said.

Suspicious prize claims

The lottery sells more than 60 different scratch-off games, costing from $1 to $30 per ticket.

The odds of winning a prize with any particular game vary slightly, but all are roughly 1 in 3. But the odds of winning big payouts are minuscule.

For example, the $30 Super Max The Money game has overall odds of winning at 1 in 2.78. The odds of winning $100 is 1 in 38; the odds of winning $5,000 is 1 in 60,000 — and the odds of winning the $10 million grand prize is 1 in 4.2 million, according to the Lottery's website. Since 2014, scratch-off games have paid out $1 million or more 192 times.

There is no warning on the games that prizes can be withheld, although the fine print does say that winners are "subject to Lottery rules and applicable state law."

Kim said the system of investigating winning games became necessary when lottery officials noticed some individuals were claiming prizes at statistically impossible rates.

"We had some people that had claimed — I think there were a dozen that had claimed over a hundred prizes," Kim said in the deposition. "There were 60 or 70 people that had claimed over 50. Everyone knew they were cashing tickets for other people.

"That was kind of the first step in taking a closer look and doing more investigation of suspicious prize claims."

Clarence Dobson, who listed his address as a post office box in Patterson, Ga., was denied prizes of $1,000 and $5,000 in November 2014. A letter to Dobson said the prize money would not be awarded because he had redeemed 43 tickets over a three-year period, and claimed multiple winning tickets on the same day.

"The extraordinarily improbably win patterns... create a prima facie case that tickets are being given to you by third parties," the letter says.

Sometimes the investigations are more complex. Ankita Patel, of Thomasville, was rejected for a $5,000 prize last year and a $1,000 prize in June. In both cases, the prize was denied because Patel allegedly misrepresented her relationship with the store owner where the game was purchased.

Patel said she lived on Pheasant Ridge in Thomasville, when her license showed an address on Hawks Crest.

"This is the same address as the owner of the store ... who has previously submitted an astonishing 33 winning tickets," the denial letters say. "Your attempt to conceal these facts create a prima facie case that you are cashing the ticket for Mr. Patel or that you are cashing the ticket for one of Mr. Patel's confederates."

A congratulations, then a denial

The denial letters most commonly refer to aspects of the law that prohibit people claiming prize money for others, and requires withholding any money owed to the state when prizes are paid.

Sunitabahen Patel, of Jessup, was denied a $1 million prize in 2014 after she told the lottery her daughter purchased the game as a birthday gift for her on June 7 of that year. Lottery investigators determined that the packet from which the game originated was not made available for purchase until June 14.

Sunitabahen, Ramilaben and Ankita Patel are not related.

The letter written by Kim says Sunitabahen Patel's statement that the game was purchased on June 7 was "fatal to the legitimacy of the purchase of the ticket."

Her lawsuit takes issue with the lottery's process in getting that information out of Sunitabahen Patel, who speaks only Gujarati, one of two dozen major languages spoken in India.

The lottery "did not have a certified Gujarati translator present during the interrogation" and Patel "simply could not understand why she was being questioned repeatedly in a language which she does not understand," the lawsuit says.

Atlanta attorney David Jaffer represents Sunitabahen Patel and said the denial came after the family received a congratulatory letter from the lottery.

"Look at the roller coaster the Georgia Lottery has put these people through: 'Congratulations you've won.' Then, 'Sorry, we're not going to pay you,'" Jaffer said. "These are hard-working folks, and the mental impact has really affected the whole family. The dad nearly went crazy."

Kim said in a deposition that the letter of congratulations, signed by Lottery President Debbie Alford, is a form letter sent before any investigation of the claim.

Lottery going too far, lawyer says

The lottery used similar reasons for denial of Ramilaben Patel's $5 million prize. Her son, Nil Patel, served as an interpreter during the interview and said the game was purchased June 1, 2016. Kim wrote in the denial letter that the game wasn't delivered to the store until June 7.

The letter also says the Patels both stated that Ramilaben Patel was the only person who ever had possession of the game, but an in-store video at a Kroger in DeKalb County showed one of her sons scanning the game to make sure it was a winner.

"These facts can lead to no conclusion other than that you are cashing the ticket for someone else," Kim wrote in the denial letter.

In the deposition, Kim said he doesn't know who is the real owner of the winning game; he has no evidence proving Patel submitted the ticket for someone else; and that lottery officials have never attempted to determine if Patel or her family members owe money to the state.

"She claimed to have bought the ticket and claimed to have had sole and exclusive possession of the ticket and that turned out not to be true," Kim said in the deposition. "She claims to have bought the ticket on her birthday. That would not have been possible."

Spix said Patel's statements are "mistakes made by the way the lottery goes about trying to reconcile these things."

"I don't really think they believe they can and should deny payment for everyone (who) can't remember from what store they bought the ticket," Spix said. "They're pushing the envelope with their interpretation. We hope these cases will show they can't do that."

Spix and the other attorneys allowed Ramilaben Patel and her son, Rohit, to be photographed, but they would not permit the family to answer questions because of their pending litigation against the lottery.

Jaffer said clear cases of fraud should be prosecuted, but denying prizes based on speculation undermines the lottery's integrity.

"This is a license by the state to... administer the lottery and it carries with it responsibilities," Jaffer said. "When people win, they expect to be paid."

But Kim said in the deposition that there has to be consequence when someone tries to cash in a winning game that doesn't belong to them. Withholding prize money is a logical consequence, he said.

"If people are entitled to a free (chance) to try to get somebody to cash the ticket for them ... that just encourages the attempts to try and circumvent the statute," Kim said.

News story photo(Click to display full-size in gallery)

AJC, Lottery Post Staff

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36 comments. Last comment 7 months ago by KY Floyd.
Page 1 of 3
music*'s avatar - box
The Big Valley in California
United States
Member #157856
August 2, 2014
2493 Posts
Offline
Posted: December 20, 2017, 7:34 pm - IP Logged

I hope that the Georgia Lottery prevails in this case of discounting. It is about time that these cheaters pay for their crimes.

Argue

  Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.  Alan Watts and Zen Buddhism

    Cassie8620's avatar - 4rqgj4
    California
    United States
    Member #180570
    March 13, 2017
    1911 Posts
    Offline
    Posted: December 20, 2017, 7:46 pm - IP Logged

    I hope that the Georgia Lottery prevails in this case of discounting. It is about time that these cheaters pay for their crimes.

    Argue

    I was hearing about this on FB earlier on my work break. Many of us @ work are on the couple side though.

     

    Innocent til' proven guilty i still believe in. Hence, good luck on a suit. I read they are suing. Good to know.

    and something tells me this couple are going to get a great lawyer to fight this tooth and nail for them. I will follow the story.

    - - - 

    7-6-8-9 = $ 8,100.00  Jackpot! on 1/3/2018. #God Is Good...

    _______ 

    3310= $3200.00 

    1119 = $1200.00

    674=$6200.00

    8620(3x) + p3 =$7750

    860= $6400 

    7447= $6800

    302=$3900

      JoeBigLotto's avatar - Lottery-049.jpg
      melbourne , florida
      United States
      Member #121140
      January 3, 2012
      229 Posts
      Offline
      Posted: December 20, 2017, 7:48 pm - IP Logged

      I think all Patel's should be banned from playing the lottery all together due to high risk with that name plus listed in no fly too lol based on fraud data with all Patel's lol

        zephbe's avatar - animal butterfly.jpg
        South Carolina
        United States
        Member #77167
        July 15, 2009
        807 Posts
        Offline
        Posted: December 20, 2017, 8:31 pm - IP Logged

        Good job, GA.  Nobody wins that many times on scratch offs.

        Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.-Rocky Balboa

        “Don’t let someone who gave up on their dreams talk you out of going after yours.” – Zig Ziglar

          Avatar
          casper wyoming
          United States
          Member #136345
          December 9, 2012
          78 Posts
          Offline
          Posted: December 20, 2017, 9:09 pm - IP Logged

          The lottery is going to lose more than if they had paid out winners.

           

          For example lets say they denied a 5 million dollar jackpot.

           

          Well the person who won that will probably sue them for the 5 million plus more because of all that they have gone through.

           

          Then by the time the lawsuit is over the time limit of paying the jackpot out will have passed so the lottery will say they will not and can not pay because the time limit is over so then the person will sue the lottery because of this.

           

           

          citing a variety of suspicions that could be fraud: winners who can't identify where or when the game was purchased;

           

          What if the ticket was given as a birthday or Christmas gift.

           

          The person who scratched it has no idea where it was bought and they did not commit fraud. Even if they asked the person who bought it where or when they bought it the person may not remember.

           

          The lottery is screwing over innocent people.

           

          He also said the lottery does not provide interpreters during interviews

           

          This is illegal.

           

          There were 60 or 70 people that had claimed over 50. Everyone knew they were cashing tickets for other people.

           

          You do not know that. They could have held onto their winners until they had a set amount then cashed them in all at once.

           

          A letter to Dobson said the prize money would not be awarded because he had redeemed 43 tickets over a three-year period, and claimed multiple winning tickets on the same day.

           

          43 over 3 years. So what. What is multiple tickets on the same day?? 2?? 2 can be considered multiple tickets.

           

          Sunitabahen Patel, of Jessup, was denied a $1 million prize in 2014 after she told the lottery her daughter purchased the game as a birthday gift for her on June 7 of that year.

           

          See I predicted they would screw over people who got tickets for birthdays or christmas.

           

          In conclusion it looks like I will stay far far far far far away form the georgia "lottery".

            Cassie8620's avatar - 4rqgj4
            California
            United States
            Member #180570
            March 13, 2017
            1911 Posts
            Offline
            Posted: December 20, 2017, 11:11 pm - IP Logged

            I think all Patel's should be banned from playing the lottery all together due to high risk with that name plus listed in no fly too lol based on fraud data with all Patel's lol

            LOL @ JOE Big Lotto.

             

            I found that part i read over few x odd.

            Discriminative anyone? So what.  His last name is"Patel." 

            I just don't like the feel of this article and what's going on. Good they are suing for their five million."

            - - - 

            7-6-8-9 = $ 8,100.00  Jackpot! on 1/3/2018. #God Is Good...

            _______ 

            3310= $3200.00 

            1119 = $1200.00

            674=$6200.00

            8620(3x) + p3 =$7750

            860= $6400 

            7447= $6800

            302=$3900

              noise-gate's avatar - images q=tbn:ANd9GcR91HDs4UJhjxO7cmeMQWZ5lB_FOcMLOGicau4V74R45tDgPWrr
              Chasing the Dream.
              White Shores- California
              United States
              Member #136477
              December 12, 2012
              5081 Posts
              Offline
              Posted: December 20, 2017, 11:40 pm - IP Logged

              These guys are "good." Notice where they posed for the photograph, against a backdrop of their gods.Not with family,the children, grandchildren, but religious icons. It is a way of attempting to project the " we religious, we truthful, we good people." Thing is, Georgia is standing their ground. It is possible that this family have prayed to their gods for help, nothing wrong with that either. Gotta try, right?

              After all, was it not the Beatles that sang " When l find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me....

               * Voice of Reason *   

               

              People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it- George Bernard Shaw.

                haveagreatday!'s avatar - wired shell.jpg
                New Member
                Fairfax, VA
                United States
                Member #68163
                December 14, 2008
                16 Posts
                Offline
                Posted: December 21, 2017, 12:16 am - IP Logged

                "Clarence Dobson, who listed his address as a post office box in Patterson, Ga., was denied prizes of $1,000 and $5,000 in November 2014. A letter to Dobson said the prize money would not be awarded because he had redeemed 43 tickets over a three-year period, and claimed multiple winning tickets on the same day."

                I sell lottery tickets at my job.  I have a customer who spends $100 or more EVERY DAY and he wins a lot.  He has the Total printed for his taxes.  He also likes to play Combos, which win $5,000.  I can easily see him winning 43+ prizes over $600 in 3 years, that is only 14 tickets a year.

                It would be more honest if GA were to pay out the prizes, then have the GA department of taxation audit the winners to see if they are paying out big money to other people right after they get the $.

                  Bandit5of7's avatar - dragon1
                  New Member
                  Chattanooga, TN
                  United States
                  Member #182850
                  July 5, 2017
                  1 Posts
                  Offline
                  Posted: December 21, 2017, 12:22 am - IP Logged

                  I play the lottery almost everyday in a well populated area of North Georgia and also play the video machines in the same store for about three hours three or four days a week.  I have never seen anyone that appears to be from India come in and buy a lottery ticket.  Never.

                    zephbe's avatar - animal butterfly.jpg
                    South Carolina
                    United States
                    Member #77167
                    July 15, 2009
                    807 Posts
                    Offline
                    Posted: December 21, 2017, 3:51 am - IP Logged

                    "Clarence Dobson, who listed his address as a post office box in Patterson, Ga., was denied prizes of $1,000 and $5,000 in November 2014. A letter to Dobson said the prize money would not be awarded because he had redeemed 43 tickets over a three-year period, and claimed multiple winning tickets on the same day."

                    I sell lottery tickets at my job.  I have a customer who spends $100 or more EVERY DAY and he wins a lot.  He has the Total printed for his taxes.  He also likes to play Combos, which win $5,000.  I can easily see him winning 43+ prizes over $600 in 3 years, that is only 14 tickets a year.

                    It would be more honest if GA were to pay out the prizes, then have the GA department of taxation audit the winners to see if they are paying out big money to other people right after they get the $.

                    The article said 'scratch offs''-not the draw games. Who wins that many scratch offs??

                    Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.-Rocky Balboa

                    “Don’t let someone who gave up on their dreams talk you out of going after yours.” – Zig Ziglar

                      Avatar
                      Framingham,Ma
                      United States
                      Member #87369
                      February 23, 2010
                      62 Posts
                      Offline
                      Posted: December 21, 2017, 8:08 am - IP Logged

                      I do know people cash in tickets for others, this is illegal, but the lottery spends how much to figure this out, between investigators and court. How much time/money does the lottery officials spend trying to find ticket owners that do not come in to claim their prizes, mostly Powerball/Megamillion worth BIG BUCKS. Then there is the tickets either scratch off or mega million/power/other big games that do not get claimed where does that money go, how are we as players to know if there were that many winning tickets in scratch off tickets? just saying should be money should be put into some kind of game at end of year and let players try to win that.As for knowing where you buy a ticket, I buy from several stores in any given week, sometimes forgetting where that actual ticket came from, others I know do the same thing and those people don't always check ticket right away, so forgetting where you buy from is a big problem. i understand that is DUMB but happens.

                        TheGameGrl's avatar - Lottery-012.jpg
                        A long and winding road
                        United States
                        Member #17084
                        June 10, 2005
                        5364 Posts
                        Offline
                        Posted: December 21, 2017, 8:16 am - IP Logged

                        A winning ticket is a bearers instrument. Claims pursuant to policy .

                        No where does it say,must show proof of date purchase,correct residency address at time of claim . 

                        I've received a 'gift ticket's that was a Winner and I couldn't say where it was bought. 

                        Couldn't find any law stating 'claimant is eligible for an interpreter ' . 

                        Ga needs to appreciate repeat players and winners. They are what funds this lucrative business. I'm on the side where transparency is key. This concept works both ways....

                        When nothing is going right, go left.

                        Lucky numbers: 663, 841,718,827,313,413,174,407,409. 

                          Avatar
                          New York
                          United States
                          Member #103600
                          January 4, 2011
                          5122 Posts
                          Offline
                          Posted: December 21, 2017, 9:00 am - IP Logged

                          Lottery investigators are not alleging that anyone is attempting to redeem fraudulent tickets; by all accounts these are legitimate winning tickets. Further, no one seems to be claiming that a ticket was stolen from the rightful owner. Seems Georgia will be at a disadvantage in legal proceedings. What is the proof that they were redeeming for someone else even if someone else purchased the ticket? One gave a ticket to a son to scan to check if it was a winner- all recorded by store security- and that disqualifies you because you answered no one else possessed the ticket- I don't think so. Who knew you had to establish a chain of possession to be paid? Just another instance whereupon an individual has less rights than the state.

                            Avatar
                            Simpsonville
                            United States
                            Member #163189
                            January 22, 2015
                            1320 Posts
                            Offline
                            Posted: December 21, 2017, 9:04 am - IP Logged

                            The lottery is going to lose more than if they had paid out winners.

                             

                            For example lets say they denied a 5 million dollar jackpot.

                             

                            Well the person who won that will probably sue them for the 5 million plus more because of all that they have gone through.

                             

                            Then by the time the lawsuit is over the time limit of paying the jackpot out will have passed so the lottery will say they will not and can not pay because the time limit is over so then the person will sue the lottery because of this.

                             

                             

                            citing a variety of suspicions that could be fraud: winners who can't identify where or when the game was purchased;

                             

                            What if the ticket was given as a birthday or Christmas gift.

                             

                            The person who scratched it has no idea where it was bought and they did not commit fraud. Even if they asked the person who bought it where or when they bought it the person may not remember.

                             

                            The lottery is screwing over innocent people.

                             

                            He also said the lottery does not provide interpreters during interviews

                             

                            This is illegal.

                             

                            There were 60 or 70 people that had claimed over 50. Everyone knew they were cashing tickets for other people.

                             

                            You do not know that. They could have held onto their winners until they had a set amount then cashed them in all at once.

                             

                            A letter to Dobson said the prize money would not be awarded because he had redeemed 43 tickets over a three-year period, and claimed multiple winning tickets on the same day.

                             

                            43 over 3 years. So what. What is multiple tickets on the same day?? 2?? 2 can be considered multiple tickets.

                             

                            Sunitabahen Patel, of Jessup, was denied a $1 million prize in 2014 after she told the lottery her daughter purchased the game as a birthday gift for her on June 7 of that year.

                             

                            See I predicted they would screw over people who got tickets for birthdays or christmas.

                             

                            In conclusion it looks like I will stay far far far far far away form the georgia "lottery".

                            You are correct, Federal law stating translators must be provided.  Years ago on the front page of the local Louisville, KY newspaper it had my hospital in violation of this for our ER.  We did not have person readily available who could speak Saudi Arabian for one of our peds patient's family. 

                             

                            Though it was only a $20 iGift for my birthday with the KY lottery it did not work into the computer.  IGT asked where it was purchased, said I don't know it was a gift in the mail, did give them all the information on the ticket.  Went back and forth with IGT who gave me a direct # to the KY lottery, so was back and forth calling them.  What upset me is it said non-refundable/exchangeable.  Told the KY lottery this is not right, it does not go into my account.  IGT called me and said it was unfixable but $20 was deposited as well as an additional $5 bonus bucks for being patient.

                             

                            As for GA lottery, the sticking point might be 'prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt'.

                             

                            Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Feliz Navidad, Frohe Weinachten or just simply Happy Holidays to all Lottery Post members.