On appeal from the Division of State Lottery, No. 03-356.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing and Yannotti.
Dimitrios Hantsoulis appeals from a Final Decision of the Executive Director of the Division of State Lottery denying payment of a winning Big Cash Casino ticket. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
Because the appeal revolves around an attempt to collect the proceeds of a winning scratch-off ticket, we deem it necessary to set forth the procedures mandated by the Lottery Commission for the sale of such tickets. Such tickets may only be sold by agents licensed by the Director of the Lottery.
N.J.S.A. 5:9-8(e). The tickets are delivered to an agent in packs, each of which is worth three hundred dollars. The Lottery has a record of each pack delivered to an agent and the agent is responsible to check the manifest against the packs received to make sure that the numbers correspond. Prior to any tickets being sold from a pack, the pack itself must be activated on the Lottery's computers. Once a pack has been activated, the agent is responsible to the Lottery for any unsold tickets. The agent is not responsible for packs which are not activated and unsold; these may be returned to the Lottery. The Lottery will not award a prize for a ticket from a pack which has not been properly activated.
Hantsoulis was employed as a district manager by Raceway Petroleum. As such, his duties included supervising several gas stations owned and operated by Raceway. We infer from the testimony that Raceway's stations included a convenience store at which the station's customers could purchase various items. Raceway was licensed to sell lottery tickets at its stations, and Hantsoulis was designated as key personnel in connection with the operation and sale of lottery tickets at Raceway facilities. N.J.A.C. 17:20-2.1.
On December 12, 2003, Hantsoulis went to the Division of Lottery and presented a claim form and a winning Big Cash Casino scratch-off ticket with a face value of $500,000. It is the practice of the Lottery to investigate the circumstances surrounding the presentation of any high tier winning ticket, and Hantsoulis was interviewed briefly that day by Lawrence Mullane, a special investigator with the Lottery and Raymond Ryan, Deputy Director of Security for the Lottery. They asked him to explain the circumstances surrounding his purchase of this ticket. Hantsoulis told them that he activated the pack with the winning ticket and said he sometimes activated packs that way.
Ryan then initiated a field investigation to review the activity on the particular lottery terminal, to get a history of this ticket and determine when the pack was activated. The investigators compared when the first ticket in the pack was validated to when the $500,000 ticket was validated to determine if that corresponded to what Hantsoulis had told them. When they reviewed the activity on that lottery terminal for the day in question, they learned that five Code 16s had occurred that day.*fn1 The investigators also learned that all of the winning tickets from this pack were validated within three minutes. They considered this highly unusual because of the complexity of the Big Cash Casino tickets. Each Big Cash Casino ticket had fifteen possible ways to win and in the judgment of the investigators, it would take more than three minutes to play twenty-six cards, the number Hantsoulis had played.
The investigators asked Hantsoulis to return for a second interview. Mullane and Ryan testified that during the course of that interview, which took place on December 17, 2003, Hantsoulis admitted to them that he would regularly play scratch-off instant games without first having activated the pack. They said that Hantsoulis told them that after he had achieved a sufficient number of winning tickets from a pack, he would activate the pack and then pay for the tickets he had played. The following statement was prepared, which Hantsoulis signed that day.
Because of my cooperation in NJL Case #03-1356 I have been offered administrative discipline to resolve this matter and I willfully agree without any coercion to this settlement. I admit I violated NJL rules, regulations, and procedures pertaining to instant tickets by failing to activate book number 443 030185 on 12/11/03. In so doing I scratched the tickets in this book prior to activating it and validated just the winning tickets, which included one, which was a $500,000.00 winner. I also acknowledged that I have done this before and it is a regular pattern on my part, I understand my actions placed players of the Lottery at a distinct disadvantage, my actions were a specific violation of NJL 17:20-5.1(a)2. Failure to perform in accordance with procedures of NJL and 17:20-5.1(a)4 failed to maintain a sound business relationship with N.J.L. [sic].
Therefore to resolve this matter I agree to forfeit any right, title, interest and claim to ticket #443-030185-026 valued at $500,000.00. I also agree to suspension of six months of having any participation in New Jersey Lottery Business.
Based upon the information Hantsoulis had provided in this interview, the Lottery reviewed its records of ticket sales at the facilities he managed for the thirty-five days preceding Hantsoulis's apparent good fortune. It found a variety of violations and suspicious activities. The Lottery then informed Raceway that Hantsoulis could ...