Mega Millions: For lotteries, disputes are often part of the game

April 6, 2012

Questions are swirling around a Maryland woman who claims that she is a winner in the Mega Millions jackpot, but can’t verify her claim because she’s lost her ticket.

As The Washington Post’s Maggie Fazeli Fard reports, Mirlande Wilson, 37, told NBC 4 that she can’t find her ticket, and a Maryland State Lottery agency spokesman confirmed that the winning ticket holder hasn’t come forward.

Even if a self-proclaimed winner comes forward, they have to produce the ticket. Anyone with a valid ticket with the right numbers becomes the winner — even if you find the winning slip after someone’s lost it.

On the frequently asked questions page at Mega Millions, for example, the lottery suggests that users sign the backs of their tickets in case the slips are lost or stolen.

“Mega Millions is not responsible for lost or stolen tickets,” the site says. “Protect yourself by signing the back of your tickets. Lottery tickets are bearer instruments. Unless signed, anyone in possession of the ticket can file a claim.”

In many cases, the trouble comes after a ticket is verified and the time comes to split up the money. Workers who buy tickets as part of an office pool, for example, often end up in disputes over who should get what cut of the money.

Americo Lopes, who claimed a $38.5 million jackpot in 2009, said that he bought the winning ticket independently of his weekly office pool. But as the Associated Press reported, a New Jersey jury decided in March to award five of his co-workers $4 million each to settle a dispute over the prize.

A similar dispute took place in 2010, the report said, when a woman who was normally in an office pool wasn’t at work the day co-workers collected money for what turned out to be a $16 million ticket. She sued, and a lawyer had her share of the winnings put into a trust, which the AP reported is still being fought over.

And then there are false claims — sometimes from people who lie about their claim and sometimes from people who have been tricked. The latter appears to be the case for a Glen Burnie, Md., man who thought he’d won the Mega Millions prize, only to find that he’d been tricked by a practical joker. Sadly, he didn’t find out about the joke until after he told his mother and she informed local media.

According to another report, this one from ABC News, Linda Bobo of Brookhaven, Miss., had to tell media outlets that her son, Mike Dronet, hadn’t won the lottery as he had said. She was upset that her son didn’t tell her the truth for three days, and told the news organization that she is “humiliated.”

It’s not that odd that no winners have come forward officially, Cara Sloan-Ramos, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Lottery, told USA Today. She said that it’s normal for winners to want to get a team of lawyers and a financial adviser before making their winnings public — a smart move for anyone who has come into money unexpectedly.

More stories from The Washington Post:

Self-proclaimed Mega Millions winner says she has misplaced the lucky ticket

Michelle Singletary: Mega Millions letdown

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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