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Illinois Lottery Can’t Pay Off Big Winners But It Is Still Selling Tickets

Win more than $25,000 in the Illinois Lottery and the best you’ll get is the same thing you’ll get from your out-of-work brother-in-law sleeping on your couch, drinking all your beer — an IOU.

That is not good enough for two lottery winners. They’ve filed a federal lawsuit against the Illinois Lottery, which is continuing to sell tickets, even though it doesn’t have the authority to pay off anyone who wins more than $25,000.

Rhonda Rasche is waiting to collect the $50,000 she won on a $3 scratch-off ticket.

“I feel like my balloon was kind of deflated,” Rasche told reporters at a press conference. “I wasn’t totally banking on the money but it was pretty crushing. I just feel like it’s totally unfair.”

“If I was the one selling raffle tickets and I didn’t pay, I would be sued or in jail or both.”

The lawsuit filed by attorney Thomas Zimmerman, Jr. on behalf of Rasche and co-plaintiff Danny Chasten — who is due $250,000 from a winning ticket in July — alleges Illinois Lottery officials are committing fraud by continuing to advertise and sell games even though they know they can’t pay off winners of more than $25,000.

The suit seeks to force the payment of people who win more than $25,000 with 5 percent interest. It also asks that nobody who works for the Illinois Lottery, or the private company that manages it, get a dime in pay until the winners get what’s owed them.

Beyond the allegation of fraud — advertising what the Illinois Lottery can deliver — the problem is both legislative and bureaucratic.

The state of Illinois is three months into its fiscal year, but Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and the Democrat-controlled Legislature have been unable to agree on a new budget. They are stuck on how to fill a $2.6 billion deficit that opened up when some temporary tax increases expired.

Under Illinois law, the state comptroller has to sign checks of more than $25,000. Without a budget, the comptroller has no authority to sign those checks, so the Illinois Lottery doesn’t have the ability to pay off winners.

“The lottery is a state agency like many others, and we’re obviously affected by the budget situation,” Illinois Lottery spokesman Steve Rossi told the Chicago Tribune. “Since the legal authority is not there for the comptroller to disburse payments, those payments are delayed.”

People waiting for their checks are not satisfied with that answer.

“You know what’s funny? If we owed the state money, they’d come take it and they don’t care whether we have a roof over our head,” Danny Chasten’s girlfriend, Susan Rick, told reporters at a press conference to announce the lawsuit. “Our budget wouldn’t be a factor. You can’t say (to the state), ‘Can you wait until I get my budget under control?'”

Chasten, Rasche, and the other Illinois Lottery winners — we don’t know how many; Lottery officials won’t comment on that — waiting for their checks are in the unlucky 10 percent of those waiting for the state to pay its bills.

Ninety percent of all state government expenses are being paid, thanks to individual pieces of legislation and court orders — including the salaries of those working inside the Illinois Lottery and the private company that manages it.

Illinois Rep. Jack Franks (D) doesn’t think that’s fair. He wants to force the issue.

He understands the Illinois Lottery actually has the money to pay off winners, but without a budget, doesn’t have the authority to write the checks.

As far as Franks is concerned, that is a bureaucratic problem that should be easy to solve.

The Democrat told National Public Radio he’s getting ready to introduce legislation to force payment of all lottery winnings, despite the budget impasse.

“I don’t think this can wait ’cause this is a very, very important asset of the state which generates almost a billion dollars in revenue a year for the state,” Franks said. “And it could dry up overnight if people lose confidence.”

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