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Herman: Lottery players say Fun 5's not fun

By Ken Herman
Sept. 30, 2014 at 11 p.m.


It's time once again to convene the Court of Public Opinion, the court that's never wrong, at least in its own mind.

Today the court must deal with everybody's favorite state-run numbers racket: the Texas Lottery.

First, this word from the lottery: "The Texas Lottery closed out a record-breaking fiscal year 2014, by making its largest contributions to public education and Texas veterans' programs in the agency's 22-year history."

Players, driven by the triumph of hope over experience - the same powerful force that leads to second marriages - spent $4.384 billion for lottery tickets in the fiscal year ended Aug. 31. (A belated Happy Fiscal New Year to all. And, while we're at it, a Happy Jewish New Year - 5775 - to those of that persuasion.)

OK, enough for the lottery good news, assuming you think people spending $4.384 billion a year on gambling is good news. The court must now turn its attention to Dawn Nettles of Garland, publisher of The Lotto Report, the self-titled "Watchdog of the Texas Lottery." She's long annoyed the Texas Lottery Commission with her aggressive watchdoggery.

Nettles' current complaint involves Fun 5's, a scratch-off ticket so named because it has five games. She thinks one of them ("Game 5") is screwed up. Here's the case she makes in asking Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's Public Integrity Unit to investigate:

"Game 5's play instructions state, 'Reveal three 5 symbols in any one row, column or diagonal, win PRIZE in PRIZE box. Reveal a Money Bag symbol in the 5X BOX, win 5 times that PRIZE.' "

Nettles sent Lehmberg a ticket that did not have the three-in-a-row 5 symbols but did have a money bag symbol. "I won," Nettles said, relying on the portion of the instructions that say "Reveal a Money Bag symbol in the 5X box, win 5 times that PRIZE."

When scratched, the prize box on Nettles' ticket revealed $100, so, in her reading, that means she won $500. But where she sees a winner, the lottery folks see a loser.

Losing is so disappointing. But Nettles, by nature, is persistent. She believes - and what we're submitting to the Court of Public Opinion - is whether the instructions on the game mean she's correct. To win, the lottery agency says, you have to have the three-in-a-row 5 symbols. The money bag, according to the commission, is a multiplier than can increase the winnings if you have three in a row.

Once again, the instructions: "Reveal three '5' symbols in any one row, column or diagonal, win PRIZE in PRIZE box. Reveal a Money Bag symbol in the 5X BOX, win 5 times that PRIZE."

Nettles' point is simple. There's no "and" or "also" there. Each instruction is independent. Her ticket did the second thing. She asks, where's my $500? You're not getting it, says the commission.

"By making this decision," Nettles told Lehmberg, "the Texas Lottery intentionally and maliciously decided they would simply insult the intelligence of players who called wanting their prize money. They are blatantly telling consumers that the lottery does not have to honor their written word nor do they have to adhere to truth in advertising laws as set forth in our state and country."

Here's the Lottery Commission's case, in an email to Nettles from Robyn Smith, a media relations specialist: "If you review the play instructions for Game 5 on the Fun 5's instant game ticket, the first sentence explains how to win the prize in the PRIZE box. ... In the second sentence, it explains how to multiply 'that prize' which you won from the first sentence."

Did I just hear someone say, "When will a lawyer get involved?" How did you know that would happen?

Houston attorney Manfred Steinberg told the Houston Chronicle he represents lottery players who feel cheated by Fun 5. So, I guess, this could go to a real court. But that doesn't obviate the need for the Court of Public Opinion to weigh in.

The question is simple: Do the above instructions offer two different ways to win money in Game 5 or do they show how somebody who has the three-in-a-row 5 symbols can multiply the prize?

<em>- Ken Herman writes for the Austin American-Statesman.</em>

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