DENVER (CBS4)– As if the odds on winning the lottery weren’t long enough, store clerks across Colorado have been caught attempting to cheat what they thought were lottery winners out of winning tickets.

“The lottery is out there actively investigating,” said Laura Solano, Colorado Lottery Director

CBS4 learned that a team of undercover lottery investigators are conducting between 300 to 600 stings ever year, called compliance audits. The undercover investigators – posing as customers- will typically present what appear to be winning tickets to lottery clerks and ask if they have indeed won.

On occasion, clerks inform the agents their tickets are losers and turn them away. In reality the tickets are specially produced to indicate they are winners when they are scanned at a lottery terminal. The special tickets sometimes indicate they are $5,000 winners.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Robert Adsit, a store clerk at a 7-Eleven in Colorado Springs took the bait last year. An undercover lottery operative handed over three scratch tickets. Adsit told the customer they were all losing tickets. But the next morning, he showed up at a lottery office attempting to cash one of the tickets which he thought was a $5,000 winner. Asked why he lied to the customer about the worth of the ticket, Adsit said, “I don’t know.” He later pleaded guilty.

Also in Southern Colorado, Jesse Gunther, a gas station clerk, fell for the sting. Gunther failed to tell undercover lottery agents that one of their tickets appeared to be a $5,000 winner. He later tried to redeem the ticket himself and was busted. He pleaded guilty in the case.

A lottery administrator tells Gunther they conduct the compliance checks “to protect our customers to make sure they get a fair shake.”

Lottery officials say they believe 98 percent of retail outlets and store clerks are honest, but that a small percentage are attempting to trick customers into turning over winning tickets.

Solano says with hundreds of millions of lottery tickets sold every year, the compliance checks may not be stopping all crooked clerks.

“We don’t have 100 percent proof we have caught all the clerks,” said Solano.

When California lottery officials spot checked retail outlets, they concluded nearly one out of every five store clerks was trying to cheat customers out of winning lottery tickets.

Solano says there are a number of ways lottery players can protect themselves and their winning tickets.

She says the best way to protect yourself is to immediately sign the back of your lottery ticket if you think it might be a winner. That prevents someone else from cashing it in.

Lottery officials also say about half of the 3,000 lottery retailers in Colorado have machines that will check your ticket for you and let you know if you have a winner.

You can also take your ticket to one of the lottery’s four statewide claim centers in Denver, Pueblo, Fort Collins or Grand Junction for them to check and see if your ticket is a winner.

You can also ask the clerk to see the cash receipt for your winning ticket. It will tell you how much you have won so you can be certain the cash prize you received is correct.

If you have concerns that a retailer may be mishandling lottery tickets, you can call the security division of the Colorado Lottery at 800.999.2959.

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.


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