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Court scratches man's lottery claim

Jan 9, 2004, 5:10 am

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Massachusetts Lottery

A Northborough man who tried to cash in on a mistake by the state Lottery Commission to collect a $4 million cash prize for a winning scratch ticket had his claim thrown out yesterday by the state Appeals Court.

In 1996, Robert Jacobs purchased a winning instant lottery ticket at the Route 9 Beer and Wine store in Southborough.

Although the winning ticket was worth only $10 "on its face," Jacobs claimed he was entitled to a $4 million prize because of a mistake in advertising that accompanied the lottery's "Holiday Bonus" game, according to the Appeals Court's ruling.

The rules printed on the scratch tickets -- "Get a * symbol and win prize shown automatically" -- were correct.

"However, promotional materials provided to the sales agents for public display -- wall posters and countertop change mats -- showed this incorrect rule: 'Get a * symbol, win all ten prizes automatically,'" the court said.

A clerk at the Southborough store told Jacobs he only won $10, but the Northborough resident claimed he was entitled to the combined value of all 10 prizes shown on the ticket -- a total of $4,001,350.

Jacobs left the store with the ticket as well as a change mat advertising the incorrect rule.

But he waited about a year and a half to file a formal claim for the $4 million prize with the Lottery Commission. In the meantime, the commission had discovered the mistake and notified lottery sales agents of the error.

After the commission rejected Jacobs' claim in 2000, he filed suit in Superior Court, but the court upheld the commission's decision.

Yesterday, three Appeals Court justices upheld the lower court's ruling.

Efforts to reach Jacobs were unsuccessful yesterday. His attorney, John Kerr, did not return a telephone call seeking comment. A lottery spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the commission doesn't discuss pending litigation.

The Appeals Court concluded the rules printed on the ticket Jacobs bought clearly indicated he only was entitled to a $10 prize.

"Those rules do not appear to us to be unreasonable or unfair," the court stated. "They appear in simple language and in a location on the card where they are likely to be read."

In addition, the court agreed with the lottery that it wasn't contractually bound by the incorrect rules printed in the advertisement.

The court also cited concerns about Jacobs' credibility raised by the lottery hearing officer who denied his claim.

For instance, Jacobs allegedly left the winning ticket and the change mat in his car overnight, behavior the hearing officer said would be "inconsistent" with someone who thought they had just won $4 million.

Jacobs also allegedly changed his story about when he purchased the ticket. At first, he claimed he bought the ticket in early November, before the lottery caught the mistake, but he later admitted he bought it in late December.

The hearing officer said "this self-serving adjustment to the time frame cast serious doubts on Jacobs's credibility," according to the Appeals Court.

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