Powerball player denied $340 million prize over computer error sues lottery officials

A man who thought he had won a $340 million jackpot in a Powerball lottery drawing is suing the game’s administrators after they said their website mistakenly showed his numbers as the winning combination.

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John Cheeks of Washington D.C. purchased a Powerball lottery ticket on Jan. 6, 2023, and checked his numbers two days later, seeing that they matched the posted Powerball numbers.

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

Cheeks went to the lottery office to redeem his ticket and was told the claim was denied because, according to lottery officials, “Petitioner’s prize claim was denied … because the ticket did not validate as a winner by the OLG’s gaming system as required by OLG regulations.”

According to Cheeks, a lottery claims staffer allegedly told him, “Hey, this ticket is no good. Just throw it in the trash can.”

Cheeks recalled, “I gave him a stern look. I said, ‘In the trash can?’

‘Oh yeah, just throw it away. You’re not going to get paid. There’s a trash can right there.’”

He did not throw the ticket away. Instead, he decided to sue Powerball, the Multi-State Lottery Association and game contractor Taoti Enterprises.

In an answer to Cheek’s suit, Taoti project manager Brittany Bailey said that on Jan. 6, 2023, the company was testing a task involving a changing of time zones for the Powerball website, and at 12:09 p.m., the Taoti quality assurance team accidentally posted test Powerball numbers on the game’s live website rather than a development site that is not viewable to the public.

According to Bailey, Cheeks could not have any winning number combination because the test numbers were not the numbers drawn for the Powerball lottery on Jan. 7 since they were incorrectly drawn and posted on Jan. 6.

On Jan. 8, the incorrect lottery numbers were listed next to the actual winning numbers on the DC Lottery website. The Taoti development team took down the incorrect numbers on Jan. 9, Bailey said.

The jackpot eventually grew to $754.6 million before a ticketholder in Washington claimed the prize on Feb. 6, 2023.

Cheeks’ lawyer, Richard Evans, said there is precedent for paying his client the money. “There is a precedent for this, a similar case that happened in Iowa, where a mistake was admitted to by a contractor, and they paid the winnings out.”

In November, the Iowa lottery paid out prizes ranging from $4 to $200 after the wrong numbers were posted.

“A mistake was admitted to by a contractor and they paid the winnings out,” Evans said.

Powerball is played in 45 states as well as DC, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. A Powerball ticket costs $2 in most states, and players can pick their numbers or have a computer make the selection.