Regardless of ever-changing formats, a massive lottery win still represents the ultimate flight of fancy for millions across the globe. In Illinois, several players of the state-run game there hit gold in 2015, bringing those long-held fantasies to life. However, harsh reality intervened and their dreams of great riches seemed as distant as ever. The winners lost out after the authorities stepped in and made them wait for their prize cash worth several fortunes in total.
These Illinois citizens had won life-changing sums of money, with individual and group players subsequently able to finalize some long-term plans. For Susan Rick of Aurora, Chicago, her boyfriend had a winning ticket worth $250,000. Elsewhere in the metropolis, a number of employees working for the city scooped a pool total of $1 million. State resident Helen Whitfield’s family were on course to pick up $400,000, prompting them to arrange a move to Florida.
Meanwhile, there were also some big scratch-card winners, with hospital clerk Rhonda Rasche of Homer Glen due to collect $50,000. For fellow victor Adam Denniston, however, his winnings took on a different level of importance. Despite scratching off a card worth only $1,000, Denniston was overcome with emotion as he and his family had just been made homeless. Indeed, even though it barely scraped four figures, this small sum was nonetheless potentially life changing.
However, that collective moment of elation and celebration soon came to a dramatic and highly frustrating end. Each of these winners were made to wait for their money, as the state refused to stump up the prize cash. Understandably, tensions and anger boiled over for those hoping to kick-start their lives with their respective payouts.
“We won,” Susan Ricks told reporters from the TV news magazine show Inside Edition in October 2015. She added, “We finally can have a comfortable life. Suddenly, you’re gonna pull the rug out from underneath us. We had a ticket for $250,000.” But the frustration didn’t end there…
“We had to cancel [almost] everything we planned on doing,” Ricks added to NBC’s current affairs program Today. As for Rhonda Rasche, she was informed by officials that her winnings would be arriving in the mail within four to six weeks. “I’ve been waiting for a check for $50,000,” the hospital clerk told Inside Edition, months after that promise was made.
Meanwhile, Helen Whitfield and her family had already boxed up their belongings ahead of their relocation to Florida, but the unpaid-money situation had left them in limbo. “We’re not going to be able to enjoy it, as old as we are, if we don’t get it,” she told Today. For homeless Adam Denniston, however, the delay in payment was perhaps even more painful.
Denniston spoke to U.K. tabloid the Daily Mail in October, 2015. He explained, “We figured we’d have some money in our pockets and we just got kicked out of our house, so, were going to use that for the down payment on another place.” With the outrage clear for all to see, some of the winners hired an attorney as they looked to file a lawsuit. The lawyer in question, Thomas Zimmerman of Chicago, revealed that a total of $288 million in lottery winnings were owed by the state.
In fact, the Illinois State Lottery had introduced a suspension on payments of winnings over $25,000 back in July 2015 due to a local government budgetary crisis. With the financial impasse still unresolved, this was extended to wins of more than $600 that October. Indeed, the issue came about as a result of state lawmakers failing to pass a budget for that fiscal year. This, in turn, meant that lottery chiefs didn’t have the legal authority or the wherewithal to pay the cash prizes on their games. However, despite that tumultuous situation, with frustrated winners feeling burned, there was another factor that really got them overheated.
Scandalously, television ads for the Illinois State Lottery were still being broadcast, adding fuel to an already raging fire. But that did not stop Illinois comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger delivering a blunt statement to the winning families in September 2015. She told a news conference, “They are all going to have to wait in line until we get a budget.”
Attorney Zimmerman was quick to respond, telling the media, “We don’t know if there will be a budget, when there will be a budget. And why should the lottery winners have to suffer?” His federal lawsuit demanded that the Illinois State Lottery cease selling tickets until the previous big winners had all received their money in full. In Zimmerman’s legal estimation, 29 winning tickets were due payments ranging from $50,000 to $262 million from July 1 to August 17 alone.
Soon after, an outraged Zimmerman spoke to Inside Edition. He said, “If any private business would engage in this kind of conduct, selling tickets and not paying out the winner, the state would shut them down and indict them for fraud.” However, with tensions escalating, a breakthrough was seemingly reached in December 2015.
Bruce Rauner, the Governor of Illinois, and House Democrats at the state’s capitol in Springfield reached a surprising agreement that released funds to pay the lottery winners. Although this was a positive move, the pressure on the state didn’t let up, as another lawsuit was sent winging its way in January 2016.
Fronted by Zimmerman once again, the action saw winners of the previous year attempting to sue the Lottery Department for interest owing on their respective jackpots. Indeed, the attorney calculated that the state had accumulated about $1.5 million in interest from the withheld money.
“Had the lottery paid the winnings to these people when they were owed the money, the winners could have deposited the money into their bank accounts, and earned interest on it,” Zimmerman argued to the Chicago Tribune newspaper in January 2016. “But instead, the state wrongfully withheld their lottery winnings, and the state earned the interest on their money.”
While the issue of paying big lottery winners had been resolved, it was potentially just a temporary measure. The funding source used to pay those individuals would expire at the end of that fiscal year, meaning that the same situation could arise again. Unsurprisingly, Zimmerman announced he was more than ready to help out once more.
In fact, the attorney said as much when he spoke to the media in June 2016. Zimmerman called a press conference to confirm that his clients were still chasing the $1.5-million interest payment from the state. However, the uncertainty regarding the State of Illinois’ budget finally came to an end in the following financial year.
In June 2017, the Illinois State Lottery suspended the sale of tickets for its Powerball and Mega Millions games. And the blame was put on the lack of a budget. One month later, however, the issue had seemingly been overcome. The games were back in play and tickets were on sale again. The lottery would start honoring big wins once more, having previously said that the $25,000 limit on payouts had been reintroduced.
Thankfully, those who played the lottery in Illinois could now relax knowing one thing. For now, a lucrative win would call for the fizz of champagne rather than fizzing anger and frustration. Nevertheless, attention should be paid to the sorry tales of Susan Rick, Rhonda Rasche, Helen Whitfield and Adam Denniston. These winners lost their piece of mind and that should not be forgotten.
Scooping a huge lottery win continues to represent one of the ultimate dreams for families across the globe. Yet for these Illinois natives, their good fortune was unfortunately put in jeopardy by a state experiencing financial turbulence. All seemed lost after the dream for these winners almost became a nightmare.