The PJ Tatler

Out of Luck: Because of Epic Budget Impasse, Lottery Winners in Illinois Stiffed by State

The Illinois Lottery announced today that players holding winning tickets worth more than $600 would be given an IOU. Any ticket worth less than $600 can still be paid by the retailer.

In July, the state stopped paying out prizes of more than $25,000. All checks over that amount must be paid by the comptroller, who has the cash but not the authority to disburse it. That can only come when Illinois political leaders get their heads out of their posterior and pass a budget.

This extraordinary turn of events has occurred because of the budget impasse in Springfield between Governor Rauner, who wants substantial cuts to education and other popular programs, and the Democratic legislature, who haven’t offered a viable plan of their own but is enjoying watching Rauner twist in the wind.

Meanwhile, two players who won more than $25,000 have sued the state for their winnings plus interest. “If I was the one selling raffle tickets and I didn’t pay, I would be sued or in jail or both,” Rhonda Rasche, one of the winners who filed the suit, told the Chicago Tribune in a recent interview.

One lawmaker tried a little humor:

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, has been a frequent critic of the state’s handling of the lottery and said this is just another example.

“I sort of like the business model, because if we take the money in and never have to pay, how do we lose?” Franks said sarcastically.

The Illinois Policy Institute has the question of the day:

So why is the state continuing to sell lottery tickets? Two winners, one with a winning ticket worth $50,000 and another winner with a ticket worth $250,000, filed a lawsuit Sept. 9 seeking to stop Illinois from selling tickets for winnings it can’t pay out.

The Wall Street Journal reported: “The lawsuit seeks to have the lottery suspend sales of tickets that might have winnings of more than $25,000, pay all big-ticket winners immediately with interest, and suspend the operating expenses of the lottery. It also seeks class-action status on behalf of the dozens of people it claims are also awaiting payments.”

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the state should stop selling tickets with prize values it can’t pay out. Otherwise, those who thought winning tickets were about to change their lives will continue to be left hanging.

Unfortunately for Illinoisans, lottery payments aren’t the only thing the state isn’t making good on, as the budget stalemate continues into its second month past the July 1 deadline.

The Illinois General Assembly did pass a state budget in May, but it was unbalanced to the tune of $4 billion, and the governor vetoed it. Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed legislation that funds Illinois schools, and many other state spending items have been mandated by consent decrees or pushed piecemeal through the courts.

But Illinoisans across the state continue to suffer as many in the General Assembly refuse to do the right thing and pass a balanced budget the state can afford, instead of resorting to deficit spending. With more than $100 billion in pension debt and $6 billion in unpaid bills, more of the same won’t work. It’s time to stop the bleeding. Until then, people wanting to cash in life-changing lottery tickets, the poor and disabled, and taxpayers across the state will lose out.

Rauner knows why he was elected. It was no secret to anyone what he came to Springfield to do; get control of a fiscal disaster that was threatening the solvency of the state. That Democrats are obstructionists is not surprising. That their proposals wouldn’t balance the budget and would raise the state’s already sky high tax rates isn’t much of a shock either.

It’s an impasse that won’t be solved any time soon.