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Some lottery odds aren't slim; they're none

The only thing LaVonne Watkins buys at a convenience store these days is a cold soda on a hot day.

She doesn't touch the scratch-off instant lottery tickets she once snapped up weekly, hoping to win $10,000. Watkins, a 35-year-old home-care provider, stopped buying them years ago when she learned that she had purchased Luck of the Zodiac tickets two months after the top prizes were won – meaning that while she forked over her money, her chance at the grand prize was zero.

“I thought I was purchasing a fair chance to win,” said the Colorado Springs woman, who is pursuing a lawsuit aimed at ending the lottery's practice.

Of the country's 42 state lotteries, about half continue to sell scratch-off tickets after the largest prizes are gone.

“The issue is: How long do you leave a ticket in the marketplace, knowing there may not be a top prize left but loads and loads of lower-tier prizes?” said David Gale of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

In Colorado, lottery director Jack Boehm said the policy was to close games immediately after the last top prize is claimed.

Boehm said that all scratch-off tickets include a disclaimer that the “availability of prizes is subject to prior sales,” and that players can check the Internet to see if top prizes are gone before they buy.

Watkins dismisses that assertion. Most players would not know they need to check such a thing, she said, and not everyone has access to the Internet.

“I really feel people are being cheated,” Watkins said. “When I get talking about the case, people are in agreement it's not right they're making thousands and thousands of dollars after the initial grand prize has been won.”

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