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A man sues Powerball after being told his $340M 'win' was a mistake

John Cheeks' lottery ticket matched the numbers posted online in January 2023. But when he tried to redeem his prize, he was repeatedly denied.
Tasos Katopodis
Getty Images
John Cheeks' lottery ticket matched the numbers posted online in January 2023. But when he tried to redeem his prize, he was repeatedly denied.

When John Cheeks saw that the winning lottery numbers on the DC Lottery website matched his ticket in January 2023, he initially didn't know what to think. The prize amount was for a whopping $340 million.

"I didn't shout or scream," Cheeks told NPR. "I just called my longtime friend." That friend advised him to take a picture of the numbers on the screen, which matched a combination of Cheeks' family birth dates and other digits.

However, the ticket was repeatedly denied when Cheeks tried to redeem the prize. He was eventually told by the D.C. Office of Lottery and Gaming that the numbers posted online were a mistake.

As a result, Cheeks is suing several groups that run Powerball in Washington, D.C. According to court documents, Cheeks has requested $340 million in compensation, along with damages and interest.

Taoti Enterprises, a lottery contractor and a defendant in the suit, said it had "accidentally" posted the wrong numbers as part of a quality assurance test. The mistake was not removed from the website until three days after the posting, according to court documents.

The group said that the numbers Cheeks saw online did not match the numbers drawn in the televised lottery drawing on Jan. 7, adding that the numbers online "could not have been the numbers drawn because the incorrect numbers were posted [online] the day before the drawing."

Taoti also pointed to a disclaimer on the lottery website that says the site is not "the final authority" for the drawing.

Cheek's attorney, Richard W. Evans, said in an email to NPR that the lawsuit raises critical questions "about the integrity and accountability of lottery operations and the safeguards — or lack thereof — against the type of errors that Powerball and the DC Lottery admit occurred in this case."

He said the lawsuit is not merely about numbers on a website but also about "the reliability of institutions that promise life-changing opportunities, while heavily profiting in the process."

Evans argued that there is precedent for this case. A similar incident happened in Iowa in November when lottery contractors posted the wrong numbers, citing a "human reporting error." In that instance, ticket holders with the wrong numbers were able to cash in on prizes ranging from $4 to $200 before lottery officials posted the correct ones.

Powerball has weekly drawings on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. The overall odds of winning a grand prize is 1 in 292 million, according to the Powerball website.

"You know, we have to create fairness in the game. A win is a win," said Cheeks. "I'm just a customer who purchased those tickets. That's all."

Representatives for Powerball, the Multi-State Lottery Association and Taoti Enterprises — all defendants in the lawsuit — either did not respond for comment or declined to comment.

The preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.

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