Lottery Leaves Players Scratching Their Heads

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The California lottery is in hot water with players after it was determined the state sold millions of dollars worth of scratch-off tickets even after the game's top prizes had already been claimed.

A trial next month aims to end the practice, which a lawyer calls false advertising, according to court papers obtained by the Associated Press.

"No one has a clue," said attorney Kevin Roddy, who sued the multibillion- dollar lottery on behalf of a player, Amy Stanley of San Francisco. She claimed she regularly bought Scratcher tickets costing $1, $2 and $3 each, only to learn the grand prizes were already won.

Lottery officials admitted the practice last summer in court, saying 11 Scratcher games since 1996 remained active after grand prizes were awarded. They also said they are doing nothing wrong. In court documents, they argued that state agencies are exempt from false-advertising laws, the report said.

Nonetheless, California Lottery spokesman Vince Montane said the lottery has begun gathering unsold tickets when there is only one major prize left, hoping to limit tickets sold after the prize is claimed.

Also, since the lawsuit was filed last year, the lottery has begun putting disclaimers on its Scratcher advertising that read: "After game starts, some prizes, including top prizes, may have been claimed."

Roddy plans to argue in court next month that California should do more. He wants California to copy states such as Massachusetts.

"In Massachusetts, when the Lottery Commission learns the top prizes are claimed, it immediately sends an electronic message to its retailers, and that's posted. People know what they're getting," Roddy said.

California's grand Scratcher prizes range up to $100,000. The Scratcher tickets, widely available in convenience, liquor and grocery stores, are the lottery's most popular product.
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