Illinois Lottery: The Land Of Lincoln Is So Broke, Lottery Winners Are Being Paid In IOUs

Illinois Lottery winners with winning tickets valued at more than $600 won’t be getting their money anytime soon, thanks to Illinois budget problems, the Chicago Tribune is reporting.

The Illinois Lottery’s financial problems are not new. In July, the lottery stopped printing checks over $25,000 due to the state’s budget problems. At the time, there was money in the lottery’s payout fund, but Illinois law prohibits the Comptroller — the official whose office cuts checks on state accounts — from cutting a check for more than $25,000 without approval from the state legislature.

That meant that winners who won more than $25,000, or were already owed that much or more as part of a regular payment (several lottery games, in Illinois and elsewhere, have payouts that result in winners getting weekly, monthly, or yearly payments over a specified period of time), have been getting IOUs since July.

Illinois Lottery

As of this post, it’s not clear how many Illinois Lottery winners have been affected by that decision. However, according to WGN, a lawsuit filed by two Illinois Lottery winners owed money by the state claim that $288 million in prizes is held up until further notice. And that amount is growing by the day, as more Illinois Lottery players buy winning tickets.

Meanwhile, since July, the lottery’s fund has completely run out of money, and now anyone who wins more than $600 will be getting an IOU, according to Slate.

Why $600? Illinois Lottery rules require retailers to pay out winnings of $600 or less on the spot. For example, if you stopped by your favorite gas station and bought a winning ticket (and your prize is $600 or less), you would simply give it to the cashier and get your payment out of the cash register. The lottery would then reimburse the retailer.

Now, even those $600 winners are getting stuck with IOUs, although the Illinois Lottery is continuing to sell tickets.

Illinois Lottery

The irony of the Illinois Lottery continuing to sell tickets while not paying for the winners is not lost on Rhonda Rasche, one of the winners who filed suit against the Lottery.

“If I was the one selling raffle tickets and I didn’t pay, I would be sued or in jail or both.”

Slate writer Elliott Hannon takes a similar view.

“The Illinois state lottery announced Wednesday it’s no longer a lottery; it’s more of a voluntary collection agency.”

So how did the Illinois Lottery wind up in such dire financial straits? The answer has to do with a budget impasse in the state’s capital, Springfield. Illinois has been operating without a budget since July, as Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats in the legislature argue over tax increases, spending cuts, and other ways to make up the state’s budget shortfall, according to the Huffington Post.

“There is a deep philosophical divide between the Republican Rauner and the Democrats who control the General Assembly, but it doesn’t help our current situation when either side blurs the context of the budget standoff for political gain.”

Regardless of how the budget situation shakes out in Springfield, whether Illinois passes a budget tomorrow or next week or next summer, Illinois Lottery officials insist that everything will be copacetic once a budget is in place and the Comptroller can legally begin cutting lottery checks again. Lottery spokesman Steve Rossi assured players in a statement that their money is coming, once Illinois legislators get their act together.

“Once the budget situation is resolved, this will be resolved as well.”

As of this post, the Illinois Lottery is not considering halting ticket sales while legislators try to hammer out a budget.

[Image courtesy of Getty Images/Scott Olson]