The manager of a Hackensack, New Jersey video store thought he had found a modern-day pot of gold this week when hundreds of unused, scratch-off instant Lottery tickets were discovered in the store basement.
"We thought we hit it rich," Nilesh Maheshwary, manager of the West Coast Video store on Passaic Street, said yesterday. "I didn't know what to do."
Making a similar find, others may have grabbed a penny and started scratching -- some lotto games offer players a chance to win thousands of dollars in prizes.
But not Maheshwary. Instead, he handed the box containing the tickets over to police.
"I didn't want it sitting in my hands," said the 34-year-old Jersey City man, known to his friends as "Neil." "It didn't belong to us."
Hackensack police and New Jersey Lottery officials said yesterday they are investigating how the box, which had $15,300 worth of tickets, made it into the basement of Maheshwary's store.
The tickets appeared to be addressed to the 7-Eleven next to the video store on Passaic Street and may have been mistakenly delivered to the video store more than a year ago and gone unnoticed, Hackensack police Detective Capt. Frank Lomia said.
Lottery spokesman Everett Merrill said Maheshwary and his employees "showed a lot of integrity and class" in giving the tickets to authorities.
Even if someone had scratched off the tickets, they wouldn't have won anything. The tickets were not activated, and no prizes could be awarded, Merrill said. Only a retailer has the authority to activate scratch-off tickets through a special computer.
"It's important from a lottery perspective that if someone were to find a box of unopened instant tickets, they're of no value because they need to be activated by the retailer," he said.
Maheshwary said two of his employees, Anthony D'Amico and Greg Mattia, found the box Monday morning while they were cleaning out a storage space belonging to the store's former manager, who resigned a week ago.
He said the invoice on the box showed it was delivered Aug. 26, 2002.
The box contained 50 books of tickets worth $300 each, according to the invoice. Among the games were Tabasco Hot Cash, Heroes of Space, Cash in a Flash and Win for Life, a game that promises players a chance to win $1,000 a week, for life, if three of the six symbols that appear after the metallic coating is scratched away say "LIFE."
Maheshwary said he signed the tickets over to the manager of the 7-Eleven in the presence of a Hackensack police officer.
At one point before turning the tickets over to the cops, Maheshwary said he thought of keeping the tickets and scratching away, but only as a joke.
"It would have been stealing," he said. "The tickets belong to the state. I want to win for life, but I don't want to win that way."