KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri State Lottery Commission called it a worthless scrap of paper. Paul E. Barnett said it was a Powerball ticket worth $100,000 - and two courts have now agreed with him.
On Tuesday, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the state must pay the Tennessee man's prize, even though he didn't try to claim it until well after the 180-day deadline.
Barnett's wife found the ticket about three years ago, while cleaning out the the console of his pickup truck.* It wasn't a jackpot winner, but it was worth $100,000. There was a catch, though - Barnett, of Dyersburg, Tenn., had bought the ticket more than 300 days before his wife found it.
The Lottery Commission refused to pay. Barnett sued, and a Cole County judge ordered the state to pay. Tuesday's ruling upheld that decision.
The state appeals court ruled that the deadline was illegally imposed because it was not properly publicized - even though it was printed on the back of the ticket.
Because lottery players are not informed of the deadline until they have their tickets in hand, the court ruled, it is unenforceable.
"We would be loath to enforce a contract in which one of the parties did not learn of a key provision of the agreement until after he had paid his money and entered into the bargain," the court wrote in its ruling.
The 180-day deadline had been in place since 2002. Before that, winners had up to one year to claim their prizes. Tuesday's ruling leaves the state without a deadline until one is either enacted by the Legislature or imposed by the Lottery Commission after appropriate public comment and publication.
The court also noted that after 2002, the Lottery Commission sometimes paid claims filed after the 180-day deadline.
"They paid all the little tickets," said Tina Crow Halcomb, Barnett's attorney. "It was the fact that it was $100,000 that made them not pay him."
Gary Gonder, a spokesman for the lottery, said about $7.8 million in prize money - around 1 percent of total sales - went unclaimed last year.
A spokesman for Attorney General Jay Nixon said Nixon was still reviewing Tuesday's decision and had not decided whether to appeal.
Kansas, also a Powerball state, has a one-year deadline for claiming lottery prizes and posts unclaimed prizes on its Web site, www.kslottery.com .
"We always post them on there in the hope that people will check their tickets," spokeswoman Sally Lunsford said. "You can't force people to check their tickets."