Joe Curcio and his wife AnneMarie got the ultimate rush after scratching off a Gold Rush lotto ticket and thinking they'd won the big jackpot.
"It was Mother's Day and we were driving down the turnpike, and my husband said, 'Let's go get a lottery ticket as a Mother's Day gift!' And we did, and it turned out to be a half-million-dollar ticket," AnneMarie recalled.
When they got back to Ocala, they quickly packed up and left before sunrise early Monday morning to head to Tallahassee with what they thought was a winning ticket.
"We showed them the ticket and they said it was a misprint! And we said, 'Uh, we had never heard that word before," she continued.
They couldn't believe it. The state refused to hand over the $500,000 prize.
The Curcios' attorney calls it fraud.
"They knew that misprints were going to occur," said attorney Lawrence Walters.
The copy of the ticket shows a "1" on the top row and a "1" above the $500,000 scratch-off piece. However, the ticket's not a winner, according to the lottery, because, first, it didn't scan.
Secondly, they say, the letters "th" and a partial "n" below the number 1 indicates that it was supposed to be a 13. The 3 didn't show up. Therefore, it's a misprint.
"They knew that ink would develop on the heads of these printers and that this is just simply an unavoidable problem that they'd have to live with. And yet they continue to sell lottery tickets," said Walters.
Did the lottery really know misprints were happening? Yes, concluded a report by the Florida Lottery's inspector general.
The lottery was aware of the problem, but says "18 out of 12.3 billion. That means our rate is 0.00000000146 percent. It rarely happens."
That's according to the lottery's David Bishop, who defends the integrity of the scratch-off games -- even after the inspector general's report recommended several changes involving the lottery and SGI, which is the Georgia company that prints the tickets.
One would require SGI to pay a claim on a winning ticket misprint. Another would define a misprint.
The lottery has an easy answer, but it doesn't seem fair to some people.
"There's no such thing as a payable misprint. The ticket is either a winner or it's not a winner. Clear and simple, it's black and white," stated Bishop.
People who play the games did indeed think it was black and white.
"Oh, the matching? You know, if there's four numbers on the top they have to match the numbers on the bottom," said one lotto player.
However, that's not always true, as the Curcios found out. It's not just a matter of scratch and match. There is a triple verification system," Bishop explained:
"Number one, the winning numbers; number two, the caption of those winning numbers right below the winning number, and finally, we have embedded those numbers in the ticket, so when you scan the ticket either at a lottery retailer or at your lottery office, you know if it's a winner or not."
Are all three conditions clearly spelled on the ticket? Not really. It only says, "Winners are subject to Lottery Rules and State Law."
Walters argued, "To try to claim that there are additional terms that are imposed on this contract after you buy the ticket based on what's on the back is just ridiculous. No other business could get away with doing that."
So what about tickets that appeared to be losers but might actually be winners? Could you be throwing away thousands of dollars?
"That's a real problem because people are throwing away tickets all the time that could very well be winning tickets if these misprints are out there," continued Walters.
Most people we spoke with had no idea that was even a possibility.
"I think I'll stick with the lotto instead, you know, scratchy, scratchy, I haven't been too successful with these."
That's a lesson the Curcios found out the hard way with a five-year legal battle. Since, then, Joe has passed away and his wife hopes she lives long enough to see the money.
The Florida Lottery says it has never paid out for a misprint. Instead, they'll offer the customer another ticket but they don't offer any type of payout. In addition, the lottery claims they're protected by sovereign immunity, which would limit the damages to $200,000. However, that limit doesn't apply in a breach of contract case, according to the Curcios' attorney.
This is also the first time someone has challenged the lottery's so-called sovereign immunity in court, claiming it operates more like a revenue-generating business than a state agency.
The lawsuit on the case is still pending.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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