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Lottery Lawsuit to Be Dismissed; Appeal Is Planned

January 12, 2002|JOSEPH MENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Sacramento judge said Friday that he planned to dismiss a lawsuit that exposed the California Lottery's sales of tickets after the top prizes were dispensed.

Judge Ronald Robie said at a hearing that while he wasn't condoning what the lottery had done, a state law requiring the agency to abide by rules on truthful advertising wasn't specific enough to be enforceable. Only under special circumstances can the government be sued for violating laws that businesses and individuals have to follow.

"When the government is allowed to be sued, it must be because they have a mandatory duty to perform in a certain way, and that duty must be very clearly articulated in the law. That is not the case here," said Nathan Barankin, spokesman for the California attorney general's office, which is defending the lottery.

After explaining his tentative ruling, Robie listened to an hour of arguments against it by an attorney for San Francisco teacher Amy Stanley, who accused the lottery of selling her tickets for "Scratchers" instant games when she had no chance of winning the advertised top prizes of as much as $100,000. Robie said he will issue his final ruling soon.

"I am gratified with the court's tentative ruling," said Lottery Commission Chairman David Rosenberg. "I want to personally assure the public that we are taking our responsibility seriously to operate the lottery fairly."

Stanley's attorney, Kevin Roddy, said he plans to appeal if Robie makes the tentative ruling final.

Roddy said he intends to file a new lawsuit against convenience stores and other retailers as well, because they profited by selling tickets with no chance at the top prizes. "This is just Chapter 1," Roddy said. "There are other people involved in this. Retailers don't have immunity."

While the litigation may be crippled by the government's immunity, the suit has had an effect already.

About eight months after it was filed, the lottery admitted in court papers that in 11 of the more than 100 Scratchers games in the last five years, tickets were sold after the last big prize had been claimed.

In later statements to The Times, officials said that in one game, ticket sales extended for three years after that point.

The lottery changed its procedures last summer and now notifies retailers electronically when the big prizes are gone, asking them to stop the sales.

Last month, the lottery apologized for the late sales and said it planned to offer a "makeup" drawing with $1 million in prizes for all previous Scratchers players.

That figure is far less than the amount of hopeless tickets, as much as $6.6-million worth, that might have been sold in the last five of the 15 years of Scratchers games.

On Friday, agency spokesman Vincent Montane said the lottery does not plan to require that old Scratchers tickets be sent in for the consolation drawing scheduled for next month. Drawing details will be released soon, he said.

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