Is The Illinois Lottery Pulling A Fast One On Scratch-Off Customers?

Written By Martin Derbyshire on April 25, 2018 - Last Updated on April 24, 2018

The Illinois Lottery has landed itself in some hot water with players and consumer advocacy groups. It seems it has been following a policy to continue to sell scratch and win tickets even after the games’ biggest prizes have been claimed.

Allowing instant game sales to continue after top prizes are awarded is a longtime Illinois Lottery policy. The policy is outlined in the fine print on the backs of tickets. The Illinois Lottery also indicates whether top prizes for specific games are still available on its website.

However, that information is not readily available at lottery retailers. Plus, advertising slogans on the tickets themselves suggest players have a chance of winning top prizes even when they don’t.

Ticket sales continue after top prizes claimed

The Chicago Tribune newspaper conducted an investigation. It found, since October, the IL Lottery continued to sell tickets for as many as 15 instant games after the top prizes had already been claimed.

In fact, from mid-November to mid-March, more than 3 million instant game tickets, worth more than $20 million, were sold for games in which the top prizes were already claimed.

Even after all three of the game’s $15 million top prizes had already been claimed, some 26,000 $30 World Class Millions tickets worth approximately $793,000 were sold over the past five weeks. The $15 million top prize represented the highest instant payout in Illinois Lottery history.

Les Bernal is the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling. It is a consumer advocacy group opposed state-sponsored gambling altogether. Bernal told the Chicago Tribune the lottery’s policy and practices are misleading to consumers:

“If they did operate with integrity, and tell people that these top prizes might not be available, people wouldn’t buy these tickets.”

This isn’t the first time policies surrounding the lottery’s instant games have been questioned.

In 2011, Illinois hired private company Northstar Lottery Group to manage day-to-day operations.

In 2016, the Tribune reported the lottery was printing more tickets for games than ever before. It also reported the lottery was regularly pulling sales before top prizes were awarded.

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Players spend millions chasing prizes they can’t win

Now, the opposite is happening. Players are spending millions trying to capture top prizes they have no chance of winning. Specifically, because these prizes have already been claimed.

The Chicago Tribune interviewed several Illinois Lottery players. They all claimed they were unaware the lottery kept games available after top prizes had been awarded.  Each played the games thinking they still had a chance to win those prizes.

Is the Illinois Lottery acting irresponsibly?

Mark Gottlieb is the executive director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Massachusetts. He told the Chicago Tribune the lottery may be acting irresponsibly:

“The state of Illinois probably should be more responsible than your average for-profit business in the way it administers the lottery, and that does not seem to be the case. Normally, if this was any other product, this would be the kind of consumer protection concern that the state attorney general would be investigating. But because it’s the state lottery, they’re exempt from just about all consumer protections that Illinois law would provide a consumer for any other industry.”

Camelot Illinois was named the new private manager to run the lottery last year. It will take full control July 1.

Camelot spokesperson Wendy Abrams spoke with the Chicago Tribune. She said once it takes over, Camelot plans “to work with the lottery to improve the policies and procedures that guide how these games are marketed, activated and closed at retail locations so that our players are able to make informed decisions.”

Other states, including South Carolina and Texas, do things differently. Once the top prizes are claimed, sales of instant win tickets are stopped either immediately, or after a specified period.

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Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.

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