That was Jesse Phillips's situation last week until a worker at the claims office took his winning ticket and refused to give him any money.
"For the State of Texas to do something like this is absolutely petty, and the government is sick for allowing something like this to happen," says Phillips, who works for the county as a building inspector. "If the lottery people go along with it, they're just as sick as the state."
Phillips tells Hair Balls that he didn't get his check because he's accused of owing the Texas Workforce Commission $2100 from about 27 years ago. In 1998, the Houston Press wrote a story about Phillips that mentions his dispute with the state. Basically, Phillips was laid off from his job and collected unemployment, but made about $136 working as a security guard for one week. When Phillips mentioned that income to the Workforce Commission, it tried to make him pay back all the unemployment money. But, he says, the final judgment was for Phillips to repay only the $136, which he did.
"That was the last I heard of it," Phillips says.
The alleged debt showed up in a state database that workers at a claims office are required to check before handing over money. (Check a list of reasons you wouldn't get paid here).
"If you're in the comptroller system as having a debt to the state...the prize money would automatically be applied to the debt," says Robyn Smith, a spokeswoman with the Texas Lottery. "It's all essentially coming from and going to the state."
Weird thing is, Phillips says he hit a $2,500 jackpot in the Daily 4 earlier this year and cashed in the ticket on February 17. No problems.
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There's not much of an explanation for that, because Smith says no one at a claims office has the authority to override a flag in the database. A worker could theoretically ignore the flag, which, according to Smith, would be breaking the law.
Whatever the reason, Phillips didn't get his $600, and even if he's right and the state is wrong, he'll have to wait at least a couple months before he finds out, if he can at all. He has to get his records from the Workforce Commission to prove there's no debt, but, trouble is, someone with the commission told him the records are usually only kept for 10 years.
Smith says that Phillips can file a complaint with the Lottery Commission, and it will investigate.
"It's kind of like they're twisting my arm right now," Phillips says. "Of course, if I was to win another lottery, someone else will be cashing it."