Lottery balls

There are many different types of nightmares and a Washington D.C. man is living one: he rightfully thought he won $340 million in the lottery, only to be told he didn’t when he tried to redeem the prize.

John Cheeks bought his Powerball ticket on January 6, 2023 for the next day’s drawing. He didn’t watch the drawing live, but checked the lottery’s website on his computer on January 8 and saw that he had, in fact, matched all the numbers to win the jackpot.

What a massive rug pull

“I got a little excited, but I didn’t shout, I didn’t scream,” Cheeks told DC’s News4. “I just politely called a friend. I took a picture as he recommended, and that was it. I went to sleep.”

When it came time to redeem the prize, Cheeks went to a licensed retailer, who said he didn’t win. He then went to the D.C. Office of Lottery and Gaming prize center and they, too, told him that he did not have the winning numbers.

“’Hey, this ticket is no good. Just throw it in the trash can,’” Cheeks recalled the lottery office employee telling him. “And I gave him a stern look. I said, ‘In the trash can?’ ‘Oh yeah, just throw it away. You’re not gonna get paid. There’s a trash can right there.’”

Skeptical and frustrated, Cheeks instead put the ticket in a safe deposit box and called a lawyer.

The lottery claims that the numbers posted on the website – and remained there for three days, according to Cheeks’ lawsuit – were a mistake by game contractor Taoti Enterprises and not the numbers from the actual draw.

Honest mistake that wasn’t caught immediately

Taoti project manager Brittany Bailey said in a court declaration that the numbers Cheeks saw were an unfortunate remnant of website testing that should have been removed. On January 6, the day Cheeks bought the ticket, Taoti was doing tests on the site involving the changing of the official time from Coordinated Universal Time to Eastern Standard Time.

The quality assurance team did post false Powerball numbers as a part of the test, but they were meant to be on a separate development site solely for testing. Instead, the numbers were posted on the real, live lottery website. Those false numbers were listed along with the real ones when Cheeks checked on January 8. Taoti realized the mistake on January 9 and took the test numbers down.

Richard Evans, Cheeks’ attorney, told News4 that he has not seen evidence of a Taoti employee’s mistake yet.

“Even if a mistake was made, the question becomes: What do you do about that?” saying that there is precedent of a lottery paying out on a mistake. Said instance happened in Iowa in November 2023 when incorrect Powerball numbers were posted. People who had those incorrect numbers were still granted their prizes, though they only ranged from $4 to $200, not $340 million.

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