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U.S. man sues Powerball after his $459M ‘win’ revealed to be website error

FILE - John Cheeks of Washington, D.C., has sued Powerball over claims they unlawfully denied him a US$340 million (over C$459.7 million) jackpot last year. Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu via Getty Images

A hopeful Washington, D.C. man had his multimillionaire dreams dashed after he was told by lotto officials that his Powerball numbers, which were erroneously displayed on D.C.’s lottery website for three days, did not merit a jackpot.

John Cheeks, who purchased the lotto ticket in Washington on Jan. 6, 2023, is now suing Powerball over claims he was unlawfully denied a US$340 million (over C$459.7 million) win.

Cheeks, 60, told NBC Washington that he did not view the live Powerball drawing on Jan. 7. However, when he checked the numbers on the on the DC Lottery website the following day, he saw they matched his own.

“I got a little excited, but I didn’t shout, I didn’t scream,” Cheeks told NBC, noting that he is not a frequent lottery player. “I just politely called a friend. I took a picture as he recommended, and that was it.”

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The catch is that the numbers on the DC Lottery website — which remained posted until Jan. 9 — did not reflect the actual numbers pulled in that Powerball drawing from days prior.

Cheeks said he brought his ticket to a licensed retailer but was not declared a winner. He was also denied at the D.C. Office of Lottery and Gaming prize centre. Instead of becoming a millionaire, a clerk at the prize centre allegedly told Cheeks to throw his ticket into the trash because it was worthless.

He put the ticket in a safe deposit box and took his disappointment to court.

Cheeks submitted a handwritten complaint in the District of Columbia Superior Court on Nov. 21, 2023. He named Powerball, the Multi-State Lottery Association and game contractor Taoti Enterprises as defendants.

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He is suing for breach of contract, gross negligence and the infliction of emotional distress, among other claims. He is seeking the full US$340 million prize as compensation, plus interest and damages.

The court case is set to begin on Friday.

In his lawsuit, Cheeks claimed he was told by Taoti Enterprises that the company mistakenly posted the numbers matching Cheeks’ own as part of a test that was not intended for the live lottery website.

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Taoti Enterprises earlier filed a motion to dismiss Cheeks’ lawsuit. The contractor called Cheeks’ claims an attempt to capitalize on “an obvious error.”

“The test numbers were never the actual winning numbers,” Taoti Enterprises wrote in its legal filing.

Taoti Enterprises said the mistakenly posted numbers were uploaded on Jan. 6, before the official drawing, and left on the site until the error was noticed by an employee on Jan. 9. The false sequence also did not include the red Powerball number.

“These red flags would cause any reasonable person to know that they were not the valid winning numbers,” the contractor maintained.

Taoti Enterprises pointed to a disclaimer on the D.C. lottery website that asserts the site is not “the final authority” for ticket validation.

Powerball and the Multi-State Lottery Association have not commented publicly on the lawsuit.

Cheeks’ lawyer, Richard Evans, said regardless of whether Taoti Enterprise posted the numbers mistakenly, his client is owed his apparent winnings.

“This is not merely about numbers on a website,” Evans said in a statement to the New York Times. “It’s about the reliability of institutions that promise life-changing opportunities, while heavily profiting in the process.”

Evans cited an instance in Iowa last year that saw numerous lotto players handed (albeit much smaller) prizes when incorrect Powerball numbers were published after a “human reporting error.” For about seven hours after the wrong numbers were reported, Iowa ticketholders with the incorrect numbers were able to cash-in for prizes up to US$200 (about C$270).

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Cheeks used a personal number combination consisting of various family birthdates and important dates on his ticket: 07-15-23-32-40 with a Powerball number of 2.

Can Canadians play the Powerball?

Powerball players do not need to be U.S. citizens or residents to enter the lottery, so Canadians are more than welcome to try their luck too.

Still, that doesn’t mean it’s exactly easy to purchase a Powerball ticket. The best way to play in the U.S. nationwide lottery is to cross the border and purchase a ticket yourself. If you have a trustworthy friend or family member already in the U.S., they can purchase a ticket for you as well — but you’ll have to be certain they won’t run away with the earnings if your ticket is a winner.

According to Powerball, the odds of winning the jackpot are about one in 292.2 million.

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