DC man says he's owed $340 million after incorrect winning Powerball numbers posted

A 60-year-old Washington, D.C., man thought he became an overnight multimillionaire but now he'll have to argue in court to retrieve the $340 million fortune he says Powerball unlawfully denied him.

John Cheeks' January 2023 Powerball ticket indicated he'd won $340 million, but when he attempted to redeem the prize, he got denied and told to throw his jackpot "in the trash can," according to the complaint filed in November 2023.

Cheeks' suit alleges he was deprived of his winnings due to "unlawful collusion" by Powerball, the Multi-State Lottery Association and Taoti Enterprises — a D.C.-based digital advertising agency that operates the D.C. Lottery website. The named defendants did not honor the posted winning Powerball numbers that matched Cheeks' lottery ticket, according to the suit.

USA TODAY contacted Powerball, the Multi-State Lottery Association and Taoti Enterprises but did not receive a response.

“This is not merely about numbers on a website; it's about the reliability of institutions that promise life-changing opportunities, while heavily profiting in the process," Rick Evans, Cheeks' attorney, told USA TODAY. "... We intend to collect every penny to which (Cheeks) is entitled to right this wrong."

How did Cheeks find out he'd won?

Cheeks bought the "winning ticket" Jan. 6, 2023, from a licensed retailer, according to the suit. He told USA TODAY that he chose the ticket's numbers by using family birthdates. The numbers Cheeks chose were "07-15-23-32-40" with a Powerball number of 2, the suit says.

"All the numbers that I have played are totally common significant related numbers to me and my life," he said.

The live drawing of the numbers occurred Jan. 7, 2023, but Cheeks said he didn't rush to check his ticket due to him being "exhausted as hell" from a meeting with his accountant that day. Unbeknownst to Cheeks, the winning numbers on the website that day matched the ticket he'd bought.

When Cheeks checked the D.C. Lottery website the following morning, he saw he'd won the jackpot due to his numbers matching the winning numbers, the suit says.

The odds of winning a Powerball jackpot are about 1 in 292.2 million.

“I couldn't believe my eyes so I turned my laptop off, unplugged it, took it down and started it up again," Cheeks said. "There were the numbers again, matching my ticket."

Although Cheeks had possibly won millions, he recalled not being excited, but "exhausted" and "numb."

With a clear head, Cheeks said he called a friend who told him to take a picture of the winning ticket because "you never know what could go wrong." Cheeks held off from redeeming the ticket that day so he could wait and meet with advisors beforehand, he said.

Taoti claims posting of Cheeks' numbers was 'a mistake'

For the next three days, the D.C. Lottery website showed the winning numbers. By Jan. 10, 2023, the numbers on the website had changed and differed from the ones shown since Jan. 7, according to the suit.

During an administrative hearing May 2, 2023, Taoti claimed that it "accidentally" posted Cheeks' winning numbers to the D.C. Lottery website Jan. 7, the suit says. The company then said the "mistake" wasn't removed from the website until Jan. 9.

That the numbers were erroneously posted on the D.C. Lottery site explains why Cheeks' personal numbers didn't match the numbers Cheeks saw when he went to a licensed retailer and checked his ticket against what was posted at the Office of Lottery and Gaming claiming center in D.C., the lawsuit says.

More lottery: Powerball winning numbers for Feb. 17 drawing: Jackpot worth over $300 million

While at the claim center, one of the officials told Cheeks to throw the ticket away "in the trash can" and that "we're not going to pay you for it," he said.

"I gave the guy a look and said 'I think I'll just keep this,'" Cheeks said. "He looked at me and I walked out. That was a very humiliating day."

Brittany Bailey, the project manager at Taoti, said in court documents that Cheeks' "attempted scheme" is a way to capitalize on an "obvious error" on the D.C. Lottery website. Rather than posting random numbers on a "test website" by Taoti, as intended, they were mistakenly posted Jan. 6 on the D.C. Lottery Website, she said.

"First, any ordinary person knows that winning lottery numbers are not posted or advertised in advance; they cannot be because they have not been drawn yet," Bailey said in the court filings. "Second, the list of numbers posted did not include a Powerball number, but simply a blank red ball. These red flags would cause any reasonable person to know that they were not the valid winning numbers for the following day."

The test numbers posted on Jan. 6 remained on the D.C. Lottery website even after the correct numbers were posted, Bailey said. When Taoti employees saw the test numbers, they realized the error and took them down, she said.

John Cheeks is shown with a 2023 Powerball lottery ticket that left Cheeks thinking he'd won $320 million after erroneous winning numbers were posted on a lottery website as part of a test.
John Cheeks is shown with a 2023 Powerball lottery ticket that left Cheeks thinking he'd won $320 million after erroneous winning numbers were posted on a lottery website as part of a test.

What did Cheeks do with the Powerball ticket?

Cheeks' Powerball ticket is currently in a safe deposit box, he said.

If Cheeks is granted the money, he said he'll open up a bank like Homestead and HomeTrust that would help people who normally wouldn't qualify for a home mortgage.

"We're going to build (and) rehab homes from D.C., to Maryland, Virginia and any other place that we're needed to help solve the homeownership crisis," Cheeks said.

The Powerball jackpot grew to $754.6 million before a ticketholder in Washington state claimed the prize on Feb. 6, 2023.

Evans said the D.C. Lottery and Powerball are aggressively marketing to consumers in D.C. and others on a national and international stage. The companies' failure to make a public service announcement once they realized the game was compromised only led to them selling more tickets and "generating an enormous amount of revenue," he said.

"As the pot grows, more people play and DC and Powerball make tremendous amounts of money on those ticket sales," Evans said. "... This lawsuit raises critical questions about the integrity and accountability of lottery operations and the safeguards—or lack thereof—against the type of errors that Powerball and the DC Lottery contend occurred in this case."

Due to the D.C. Lottery and Powerball's "alleged error," Evans said Cheeks should be paid out the winnings because precedent exists of them paying declared winners when a similar situation occurred in Iowa.

Iowa lottery officials blamed an unspecified “human reporting error” in November 2013 after posting the wrong Powerball numbers, which remained on its website for more than six hours. Anyone who cashed in their winning tickets was still able to claim their prizes, which ranged from $4 to $200, the Associated Press reported.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Powerball sued by Washington, D.C. man for not honoring $340M jackpot