ROANOKE, Va. – In the latest challenge to a state lottery's deceptive practices, a business professor's lawsuit seeks to hold the Virginia Lottery accountable for selling about $85 million in defective scratch-off tickets.
A lawsuit by Washington and Lee University professor Scott Hoover seeks reimbursement for purchasers of an estimated 26.5 million tickets over the past five years. He asserted that the tickets had no chance of winning the top prize promised on them.
John Fishwick, a Roanoke attorney for Hoover, on Monday released copies of a lawsuit filed in Richmond Circuit Court. It seeks an $85 million judgment and an injunction preventing the Lottery from selling the outdated tickets.
The practice among state lotteries is widespread, said Rob Carey, an attorney who has filed similar challenges in Arizona, California, Colorado and Washington state.
"It's flat-out false. It's deceptive," he said. "They all play for the grand prize."
In New Jersey, for instance, no top prizes remain for an 8-month-old game, $1 million Explosion, but Lottery spokesman Dominick DeMarco said he was unaware of any similar lawsuits in that state.
Virginia Lottery Director Paula Otto said Monday she had not seen Hoover's lawsuit, but that policies were being updated to ensure that top prizes were available for all games.
Hoover's action said the problem arose in popular games, in which the Lottery issued new shipments of tickets but did not tell retailers to pull tickets from old shipments when all the top prizes were awarded. As a result, the lawsuit said, tickets with no chance of winning a game's top prize were sold.
After Fishwick gave notice June 9 of plans for a lawsuit, Lottery officials said they were checking millions of tickets to ensure that each scratch-off game had top prizes available. Otto said Monday that a few defective tickets were found at retail outlets and in the Lottery's warehouse and were pulled out.
"We want to reassure our players that scratch tickets at retailers have top prizes as well as plenty of smaller prizes," she said.
Fishwick contended that Lottery officials should reimburse players.
"The Lottery has refused to admit the scope of the injury it has caused Virginia citizens or take any responsibility for it," he said in a statement.
Carey said he's found the odds of winning in court slim. But in his California case, the state held a "losers' lottery" in which people could enter losing tickets.
The New Jersey Lottery urges scratcher players to check its Internet listings to determine what prizes remain for nearly 80 instant games, spokesman Dominick DeMarco said. He said many vendors might check for a customer and some make printouts available.