Dave Lieber

Let me be the first journalist anywhere to report the winner of the Texas Lottery’s Willy Wonka Golden Ticket with the record-setting $1 billion prize.

Yes, the biggest prize for a solo winner in lottery history.

Remember all the hype a year ago? We’re talking a billion dollars here, not a million.

Until now, the winner has not been announced. Ready for this Watchdog exclusive?

Drum roll, please. And the winner of the largest solo prize in lottery history is ...


How could that be?

Scam vs. sham

This would be a good place for The Watchdog to note the difference between a scam and a sham.

For me, a scam involves a proven criminal confidence game, often resulting in a felony conviction or civil fine.


Billboards for the Texas Lottery’s Willy Wonka Golden Ticket game were placed all over Texas.

I can’t call the Willy Wonka game a scam because in this case the lure was backed by the full faith of Texas state government.

But I will call it a sham, which is defined as something that is not what it is purported to be.

The Willy Wonka game was played in Texas and 16 other U.S. lotteries. No one won a billion dollars.

How can you offer a lottery game, sucker people in for millions of dollars in ticket sales with the promise of a record grand prize — and then never award it?

How nobody won

The Watchdog cried foul when this sham was first presented. There were so many flaws.

For $10 you got three scratch-off games on one supersized card. Fifty chances to win. If you win, you’re out. That’s not a typo. To advance to the so-called billion-dollar “second chance” round, you needed a losing ticket.

Advancing was not automatic. Registration was required. I didn’t want to do it on the state lottery commission app because that would capture data off my phone that, theoretically, someone could obtain under the state open records law.

The scratch-off games were a bit of a brain twister with so many numbers to check. I couldn’t find the required 13-digit registration number. I had to call the lottery commission.

Turns out the number was hidden under a scratch-off box that was not marked. I bet some players didn’t even bother to register to advance in the game.

The drawing for the second round was poorly handled. Dawn Nettles, who runs LottoReport.com, attended the Austin drawing. Afterward, she called it a disgrace because the commission did not immediately release the names of the 20 winners. It was too mysterious, she said.

The chosen 20 Texans moved on to the second round, an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas for the “Billion Dollar Challenge.” This portion was handled by Scientific Games, the lottery’s ticket maker, which ran the rest of the drawings and would pay the remaining prize money.

These eventual winners were among 100 finalists from other states who gathered in April at the LINQ Hotel & Casino. Each of them opened an envelope, but only five people found a golden ticket. The rest won cash prizes.

The final five were called to the stage, where they played games of chance (not skill). Four played for $1 million and only one played for $1 billion.

That’s the biggest problem and what’s most disturbing: Out of hundreds of millions of tickets sold across the U.S., only one person — one person! — had a chance to win the billion.

By the numbers

Here are some numbers.

Kelly Cripe, the lottery spokesperson, tells The Watchdog that 8,829,912 Golden Tickets were sold in Texas for $88.3 million dollars in sales.

Texas paid the costs, including $3.8 million in advertising. Texas also paid license and promotion fees for the game and the use of Willy Wonka’s image.

In addition, Texas paid $62 million in prizes to winners of the scratch-off games (remember, those winners couldn’t go on to Vegas).

Of the 20 Texas finalists who moved on to the Vegas round, 18 won $1,000 in cash. David Jenkins of Buda won $25,000. Only Shadina Hubbard of Midland moved on to the ultimate round — the “Million Dollar Spin.” She won $42,500.

The state’s take after expenses was $15.7 million, Cripe said.

Let’s review. About 8.3 million Golden Tickets were sold in Texas, but only 20 had a chance at the Vegas drawing. Of all the tickets sold everywhere, only one person in the entire U.S. got to play for a billion dollars.

And that’s how nobody won. Nobody was always going to win. What a sham.

News researcher Jen Graffunder contributed to this story.

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