Scratch off with phone card didn’t pay

Published 8:01 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A scratch off attached to a phone card can be a bad deal for the only thing that is certain is the few minutes of phone service, and that’s only if the company is still in business.
Months ago, a local resident bought a winning jackpot scratch off ticket attached to a two- to three-minute phone card from a local convenience store. The ticket turned out to be a jackpot winner but the winner of the jackpot has not been paid because the company allegedly responsible for the tickets went out of business.
The tickets are sold at local convenience stores in Picayune attached to phone cards containing one to three minutes of talk time, said Manuel Marshal, cousin to ticket holder Dennis Jones.
Marshall said he actually bought the ticket June 15 but could not claim it because his wallet was stolen and a valid ID is needed to claim a prize so he let Jones claim the prize. On top of the problem with claiming the prize, a week later Marshall said his father died forcing him to pawn titles of his vehicles to pay for his father’s services.
When Jones tried to claim the prize at the register, he was told he had to talk to an individual at the ticket distributor. That person told him to talk to the owner of the ticket company, Jackpot Promotions, Marshall said.
Tom Mueller, Special Assistant Attorney General said it is common practice to have large jackpot winners receive their winnings from the ticket company. Only small claims up to a few hundred dollars are claimed at the register.
Marshall said the owners of the ticket company told him they would not be able to pay the winnings because the company is out of business. He said they offered Jones $5,000 under the table so he wouldn’t have to pay taxes, which Jones denied.
The Attorney General’s office suggested Jones and Marshall find a lawyer, Marshall said.
Mueller said the best recourse for Jones would be to file a civil suit.
“Before we do that, I want the public to know that they are not legitimate,” Marshall said about Jackpot Promotions’ “Red Hot Peppers” tickets.
Marshall and Jones said they suspect the ticket company is trying to buy some time to set up a defense, such as bankruptcy, so they won’t have to pay. Marshall is most curious about why money was not set aside for payouts since Jackpot Promotions would know that certain tickets are still in circulation.
Joe Stevenson, part owner of the now defunct Jackpot Promotions, said he was not aware the ticket was out there but is willing to put up some of the money Jones is owed out of his own pocket. However, Stevenson said he wants the printing company, Diamond Games, to help pay the winnings. In fact Stevenson said it is the responsibility of the printer to help pay winnings.
Bill Breslo of Diamond Game said that according to the printing contract between his company and Stevenson’s, payment of the winning tickets, in whole or part, is not the responsibility of Diamond Game and lies with Jackpot Promotions.
Mueller agreed that normally the ticket company is responsible for payment of jackpots unless otherwise stated in a contract.
Stevenson did say he asked Jones to wait a few weeks to get the money together, and that his company knew nothing of how many and where the of winning tickets were.
“We weren’t aware of the fact is was out there,” Stevenson said. “We’re doing what we can to come up with it out of our own pockets. We don’t have to pay anything because the company is out of business, but it ain’t right to not pay this man his money.”
Since the company is out of business, Marshall wonders why the remaining tickets are not pulled from circulation.
Stevenson said he has no plans to pull the tickets because he does not know where all the tickets are. He blames Diamond Game for his not knowing where they are.
Notification of the whereabouts of tickets is also not part of the printing agreement, Breslo said.
“We never had knowledge of where the cards were going… nor would it be our place to ask where they were going,” Breslo said in an e-mail to the Picayune Item.
If Jackpot Promotions decides to do a disclaimer. they may reimburse the vendors for their loss, but there are no plans to do so at press time, Stevenson said.
A previous lawsuit between Jackpot Promotions and Diamond Game took place before Jackpot Promotions went out of business. The suit was based on the printing company producing an excess number of $500 winning tickets, costing Jackpot Promotions $30,000 in extra-win pay outs, Stevenson said.
Breslo said there was a counter suit in that ordeal and that a confidential settlement agreement “prevents us from discussing the details.”
However, it does appear that if the tickets are still being sold and the company is out of business, then the phone services the cards are offering are delinquent, Mueller said. Mueller said unless Jackpot Promotions sold the phone services to another company who is providing those services then money is simply being taken.
The “Red Hot Peppers” tickets are still being sold at the local convenience store, Marshall said.
The Mississippi Gaming Commission will be alerted to the status of the cards being sold in Picayune and when the investigation starts, they will work with local law enforcement to make sure everything is as it should be, Mueller said.
“We always tell people to be leery of those get rich quick phone cards,” Mueller said.
The tickets are considered legal in Pearl River County because according to the 1997 “Treasured Arts” case if there is a legitimate purpose to the underlying product is legal to sell the scratch offs, Mueller said. However, according to Six Electronic Gambling Devices of 2001 those tickets must be sold by hand and not from a machine to remain legal, the assistant attorney general said.

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