Man sues Powerball for $340 million prize money as lottery operators claim his winning numbers were advertised by mistake

BY Preta Peace Namasaba February 21, 2024 10:51 AM EDT
John Cheeks, left, is in court to claim the $340 million prize despite Powerball's claim that a lottery partner advertised the wrong winning numbers.

The odds of being struck by lightning over the next year are incredibly better than winning the jackpot.  There’s about a one in 300 million chance of winning the Powerball or Mega Millions. But John Cheeks wasn’t overtly excited when he received news of winning the Powerball.

“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,” said Cheeks.

Over a year later, Cheeks is suing Powerball and the D.C. Lottery for refusing to pay his $340 million prize.

Except for when the jackpot goes up, Cheeks is not a regular at the lottery. He purchased a Powerball ticket on January 6, 2023, and chose numbers based on his family members’ birthdays. Cheeks did not see the drawing the following day until he checked the website on January 8 and saw his numbers. His numbers remained on the D.C. Lottery website for three days, with the size of the Powerball prize being $340 million at that time.

But when Cheeks tried to redeem the ticket at a licensed retailer, his prize was denied. He then went to the D.C. Office of Lottery and Gaming prize center where he was once again turned down. When the claims staffer requested that he throw away the ticket, Cheeks became suspicious.

“’Hey, this ticket is no good. Just throw it in the trash can. And I gave him a stern look. I said, ‘In the trash can?’ ‘Oh yeah, just throw it away. You’re not gonna get paid. There’s a trash can right there.’” Cheeks said of his encounter at the lottery office.

He instead put the ticket in a safe deposit box and contacted a lawyer. Cheeks is now suing Powerball and the D.C. Lottery on eight separate counts, including breach of contract, negligence, infliction of emotional distress and fraud. His lawyer, Richard Evans stated in court documents that Cheeks is entitled to the entire jackpot because the winning numbers matched his ticket. The lawsuit requests that Powerball pay him the winnings from the ticket he held and an additional $72,000 per day of interest payments for failure to pay.

“This 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 contend occurred in this case. This is not merely about numbers on a website; it’s about the reliability of institutions that promise life-changing opportunities, while heavily profiting in the process,” Cheek’s lawyer told BBC.

On the other hand, the defendants claim that one of their contractors, D.C.-based Taoti Enterprises made a mistake. They contend that the firm accidentally posted the wrong numbers on the website. Cheek’s legal team argues that there isn’t evidence to support the mistake defense and even if there was, he is entitled to restitution. This standpoint is supported by precedent from Iowa where a mistake was admitted to by a contractor and they paid the winnings out.

Cheeks is optimistic that the justice system will prevail. He believes that the lottery winnings would have been life-changing for him and his family. In case he wins, Cheeks plans to use the $340 million windfall to open a home trust bank. The institution will allow aspiring homeowners who don’t qualify for traditional mortgages to access loans.