‘Profiting on crime’: Frustrations grow for lottery retailers dealing with thefts, current rules

SPOKANE, Wash. — Theft is on the rise for lottery tickets. As crimes increase, so does frustration for lottery retailers who are dealing with the aftermath of stolen property while paying back tickets they could never even sell.

In all of 2021, there were 105 grab and run ticket thefts in Washington. In just the first quarter of this year, there’s already been 125 of theft. Retailers say they’re the ones paying the price for this rise in crime. They want something to change, but the lottery says it’s not that easy.

In just minutes, a criminal got away with $1,600 in lottery tickets at the Towner’s Conoco. Today, the thief isn’t the only criminal in Ken Towner’s opinion.

“How can they be getting away with this crime against their retailers?” he asked.

Towner says he canceled the stolen tickets as soon as he knew about the break-in. It’s the lottery’s response that has him adding up his losses.

“Not only are they profiting from the guy that stole the tickets, they’re profiting on the prizes they don’t have to pay out,” he said. “I mean as far as I’m concerned this is extortion, racketeering. As far as I’m concerned, the lottery is acting as though they were the mob in the 1950s. I just can’t believe they’re doing this.”

While Towner says the lottery is pocketing unclaimed prize revenue, the lottery insists the stolen tickets become “dead paper” and are treated just like winning tickets that go unclaimed. It then becomes revenue that is then distributed to a variety of beneficiaries.

The lottery says requiring retailers to pay back stolen property is something they can’t change.

“The rule says that once they activate those tickets, they have to pay us for them, and they will not be reimbursed even if they’re lost or stolen,” said Kristi Weeks. She’s the Director of Legal Services for Washington’s Lottery.

She says it’s because of a decades-old code that could be getting an overhaul because crimes are only getting worse.

“Since 2020, we have seen a very large uptick in thefts and robberies,” Weeks said.

“Had it not been for this crime wave over the last two years, a lot of people wouldn’t even know about this,” Towner added. “In fact, if we hadn’t been broken into, I still wouldn’t know this policy existed.”

The lottery understands these issues and says they are looking to fix the system, but it will take months.

“We understand that they’re frustrated with it. We understand that they’re frustrated, and we’re going to look into changing it,” Weeks said. “This has never been a huge issue in the last 40 years or so. It is now, so we’re going to assess it.”

Until then, the current ruling is leaving it for retailers to determine whether being a ticket seller is even worth it.

“They’re profiting on crime twice,” Towner concluded.

The lottery says they want to see more discretion in the current rule. They want to be able to look at the facts of each case individually and see if a retailer should really be reimbursed for a theft. Weeks says they plan to bring up these concerns and suggest a change to the rule at the next Commissioner’s meeting in June.

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