Judge: Return $1 Million Lottery Ticket Found In Trash To Original Owner

If you found a million dollars sitting in a convenience store trash can, would you take it? In that case, it’s probably better to call the police. But when an Arkansas woman scanned her lottery ticket and learned it was a loser, she tossed it in the garbage. Another customer who likes to check discarded tickets for small winnings found the ticket and learned that it was worth one million dollars.

In this case, the law of “Finders Keepers” doesn’t apply. A judge decided yesterday that the woman who cashed the ticket in must turn over the money to the woman who bought it.

The finder’s attorney plans to appeal the decision.

Woman Who Lost Ark. Lotto Ticket Entitled to $1M [AP] (Thanks, Howard!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. MutantMonkey says:

    Wait, how do you get a false positive, or negative in this case, with a barcode scanner?

    • crispyduck13 says:

      I really, really want to know the answer to that question.

    • Hoss says:

      If it’s a self-scan device, maybe she saw so many zeros she thought it was a loser?

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      I wonder if there’s a design flaw in the machine so that if it can’t connect to the mainframe, it automatically returns a negative result. I see it sometimes on websites when they can’t connect to a separate database server.

    • KillerBee says:

      It can happen if the barcode is damaged or if the scanner is defective. however, barcode technology these days is such that either situation would be very, very rare.
      What may have happened here is the cashier was trying to scam the ticket holder and take the money for themselves (Dateline did an expose on this a while back). Of course, that would require that the she somehow got the ticket back from the cashier before throwing it away.
      The most likely situation here is that the cashier made a mistake. Perhaps he was scanning a few of them at once and skipped this one accidentally.

    • Scuba Steve says:

      Easily if you wanted to cash the ticket yourself (or have a friend find it)

      It’s just to easy to abuse the finders keeper rule in this scenario.

      • Jawaka says:

        This is why there’s screens that face the customer and sound effects that tell you if you if your ticket was a winner or a loser. Its pretty hard to lie to a customer and tell them that their ticket was a loser.

        • WhenPigsFly says:

          How about a ticket screener that goes, ‘Whomp, whomp, whomp’ when you don’t win anything.

    • ovalseven says:

      Maybe she scanned the ticket before the numbers were actually drawn. That’s the only possibility I could think of.

    • Difdi says:

      Some lotteries have a main drawing for a big jackpot, and then later on, have one or more drawings for smaller prizes, that the big winning lottery number is excluded from. It gives people more than one chance to win something.

      If someone scans a ticket, sees they didn’t win the big drawing and tosses it, then that ticket wins a smaller drawing later on…

      • Lucky225 says:

        Difdi hit the nail on the head, I think the most likely scenario is a ‘second chance’ drawing.

    • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

      From reading another article on ABC News about the issue, it seems that the ticket wasn’t fully scratched off, so I’m guessing that it didn’t display a full barcode. That’s just a guess, though.


  2. RobHoliday says:

    As soon as you (purposely) throw away something, it no longer belongs to you.

    • LoadStar says:

      I would agree with this. Additionally, I understand that lottery tickets are considered bearer instruments, meaning whomever holds the ticket can make a legal claim to the winnings.

      I think the finder has every right to appeal, and I think they have a good chance of winning on appeal.

      • Golfer Bob says:

        But she’s not the finder. She “found” the ticket in the trash while on someone else’s private property.

        • LanMan04 says:

          Trash can at the curb or trash can in the kitchen?

        • kobresia says:

          That’s why she should split her find with the owners of the convenience store, since it was in their trash can. That would be the proper decision in the case.

        • Coleoptera Girl says:

          I’m pretty sure that the trash can was at the place where the ticket was bought. That was my impression, anyway…

    • vorpalette says:

      Agreed. If this were evidence in a criminal case, the police would be 100% justified in taking it and using it in court without a warrant.

    • dolemite says:

      “Hey, someone took my chair I tossed into the dumpster at the landfill. POOOLIIICE!”

  3. gavni says:

    Wow! Neat!

    Are there any news articles about this, or is the consumerist breaking news in a story without citations, quotes, or names?

  4. Blueskylaw says:

    I think if Lincoln was the judge he would have split it in half and said you
    both of you are still receiving a sum of money that will change your life.

  5. SkokieGuy says:

    I’ve always wondered about the scanners. Why isn’t the lottery liable for a scanner that says a ticket is not a winner? Seems like the lottery would have a very strong interest in an ‘accidental’ software glitch that doesn’t accurately scan tickets.

    We all read about unclaimed winning tickets that eventually expire with no one paid. I wonder what percentage are due to scanner ‘errors’?

    • justabunchofwords says:

      Good luck trying to prove that the scanned ticket actually came up as “Not a Winner”. Maybe the woman was quickly scanning a whole stack and missed one, or mistakenly thought it said “Not a Winner”. I’m going to go with human error on this one.

  6. Bativac says:

    This is total bull, even if the lady who is claiming she bought it really did buy it. From the article:

    “[Judge Thomas] Hughes found that the evidence weighed in Duncan’s favor that she bought the winning ticket, even though lottery records and store security video didn’t synch up to the precise timing of the purchase.”

    Finders keepers. You’re gambling, anyway. You gambled and lost. Somebody else gambled by pawing thru the trash and won.

    • Bionic Data Drop says:

      I guess I’m in the small minority that agrees with the ruling. She bought the ticket with her own money. The scanner told her it wasn’t a winning ticket. She only “abandoned” the ticket after being given false information by the store.

      I guess I look at it as a slot machine. If you’re told by an employee you didn’t win the big jackpot and you move on to the next machine, the next person who sits down doesn’t get to claim your winnings if the employee was wrong. I realize that is not a perfect analogy, but that’s how I look at it. She bought the ticket/pulled the lever/rolled the dice, she is the rightful recipient of the outcome of the gamble. An error by an employee or machine shouldn’t invalidate that.

      • Bladerunner says:

        Maybe she should be checking the numbers on the ticket herself, then. She chose to rely on the scanner, then those to throw out the ticket without confirming. Once it’s trash, you don’t get to say “hey, waitaminute!” when you realize you made a mistake.

        If I throw out a comic book (an unlikely scenario), because someone said “Oh, that Action Comics #1 is definitely a reprint, there’s no way you have a real one, it’s worthless”, I don’t get to go “Hey, that’s mine!” if someone finds it and goes through the effort of determining it is, in fact, an original.

        • Bionic Data Drop says:

          Everyone is on the “trash is finder’s keepers” wagon, but they know that if that was their lottery ticket they bought, checked with the machine, and then tossed it when told it didn’t win would sue sue sue to claim that money. I wish everyone on this site would stop acting like they’d wish the finder good luck with their million dollars and move on with their life. It’s crap. This is a controversial issue with both sides having good points. It’s not nearly as cut and dry as people think.

          • Bladerunner says:

            No, both sides do NOT have good points.

            One could argue that this woman could sue the STORE for telling her the ticket was not a winner, but the dumpster diver has committed no tort, and anyone who thinks otherwise should make a point, rather than just saying “nuh uh”, but they’ll be hard pressed to do so.

            Were it me, I MIGHT sue the store. But the woman who bought the ticket? No, because I try not to bring frivolous and unethical lawsuits up. But that’s just me.

  7. thomwithanh says:

    I think they should share it

  8. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    If the amount had only been $100, it would clearly belong to the finder. How does changing the amount change the ruling?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Define “clearly” for the rest of us. I think your definition and ours are drastically different.

  9. thomwithanh says:

    What about signing the back of the ticket?

    • Jawaka says:

      Why would you sign a losing ticket?

      • diagoro says:

        I rarely play the lottery, but when I do I’m sure to sign the ticket after buying. It really does negate any kind of ownership errors……

      • Weighted Companion Cube says:

        It is good practice to sign the ticket as soon as you get it, just for this situation.

  10. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    The ticket belongs to whoever found it. UNLESS the finder is in cahoots with the person who scanned it, who KNEW it was a winner and said it wasn’t so the real owner would throw it away.

    AHA! The plot thickens…

  11. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    I think it’s really interesting that the store owner started the legal proceedings to claim that the finder for lack of a better term stole it from the store’s trashcan. I think there was a very valid point here. Your trash isn’t fair game until it’s on the curb, and I could see the store saying the same thing. Does a trashcan in a public place have a different level of protection?

    How did the purchaser find out that her ticket was legitimate? I also though lottery tickets were bearer instruments..

    • arcticJKL says:

      Yes, I agree. The courts have rules trash on the curb can be searched without a warrant so it doesn’t belong to the store, but if the trash is still inside the store…

    • DarkPsion says:

      And New York City has garbage police that actually stake out garbage and ticket anyone trying to take it, including the person who put it out at the curb.

  12. Hoss says:

    It’s not clear how anyone knew that among all the tickets in the trash, this one was hers. If the reason was a signature, then I can see why the judge made the call. I can’t cash a check made out to you even if it was discarded

  13. xantec says:

    I wonder who will pay the taxes on it.

  14. elangomatt says:

    Wow how screwed up is that ruling? I wonder what legal precedent let to that judge’s decision. Back when I served my time in a big box retailer job, I worked about 20 feet from a self service scratch off ticket vending machine. People would very often scratch it, see it is a loser, and then toss it on top of the machine. I used to collect those tickets (someone’s gotta throw em away) and double check them to make sure they really were losers. I found a winner probably once month or so, but it was usually either a free ticket or $1/$2 winner. I never did figure out if the person actually thought it was a loser, or that cheap of a prize wasn’t worth the time cashing it in. One time though I found a $100 winner. It never even crossed my mind that I should have done anything but collect the money.

  15. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    One of the comments:

    “The money was given back to the right person. She would have never thrown it away if the machine was working properly. And once she threw it away, it was the property of the owner of the business, NOT some woman that just comes and takes from his garbage – the trash is inside the store from the sound of it, so it was the owner’s ticket as of that moment.”

    This is a good point. Technically the trash belongs to the business owner, NOT the finder. That’s why cops can grab trash off the street without a warrant, because once it leaves the residence and is placed on the curb it becomes city or county property.

    The finder should at least get something. If hadn’t been for her the purchaser of the ticket wouldn’t have gotten a dime.

  16. kobresia says:

    This wasn’t “lost”, it was purposefully discarded through ignorance and inattentiveness.

    Along the same lines, say I find something in the trash or buy it super cheap on CL or at a garage sale. It’s obvious the owner doesn’t understand the value, or is just too lazy to care. Maybe I do know the value, have the mechanical aptitude to make a trivial repair to make it worth a small fortune, or am just really lucky. Do I owe that previous owner the unsolicited & uncompensated knowledge I possess, or part of the windfall I’m likely to experience? Yeah, not at all.

    Not to be a dick, but I derive a good bit of my income from things that ignorant people see as junk, but I recognize the value of, as well as reselling things that utterly inept sellers are trying to sell with a poor, unreadable description (such as bad spelling, grammar, text speak, or just minimal information) and a shitty phone-camera photo. I don’t feel I’m taking advantage of anyone when I buy their things dirt cheap and sell them for substantially more, because I worked for the knowledge I have, I’m willing to take good photos, and I put a modicum of effort into my sales.

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

    Or, one woman’s trash is another woman’s winning lottery ticket.

  17. KitanaOR says:

    What about a 3rd option: split it 50/50? If it hadn’t been scanned by the second woman, it would be sitting in the dump right now.

  18. TheIrreverend says:

    Legally, I think this outcome was correct, although from an equitable perspective I can see why people think it is unfair. The British precedent is Parker v British Airways Board where the judge held that a finder has the following rights:

    1) A finder has no rights unless the chattel has been lost, and he takes it into his care and control.
    2) A finder acquires only limited rights if he takes it into his care with dishonest intent or when trespassing.
    3) A finder acquires title good against the world except from those with a good anteceding claim.
    4) A servant who finds a chattel in his employment takes it into possession for his employer.
    5) A finder must make a reasonable effort to locate the true owner, and to take care of the chattel in the meantime.

    So the finder in this case had good title to the ticket EXCEPT against the purchaser who had an antecedent claim. To defend against this, the finder would have to demonstrate on a balance of probabilities that the purchaser intended to disinvest themselves of their property rights to the ticket, which would be difficult to establish, especially if the person did not know the character of the chattel they were throwing away. Basically, I think the legal outcome was correct, but the purchaser ought to give the finder something. Maybe a finder’s fee?

    • kobresia says:

      All those things you mention is in regards to property being lost or misappropriated, when the legal owner did not deliberately abandon or otherwise surrender ownership.

      From a legal standpoint, I doubt it matters if the owner understands exactly what they’re discarding and is making an informed decision, unless fraud or coercion is involved. If they discard something of their own free will, free of anyone else’s influence, it really should all boil down to “sucks to be them”.

    • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

      I have a few problems with that concept. First of all, this occurred in the US, so a British precdent wouldn’t have much bearing on this case. Second, the item was not lost, it was willfully discarded (abandoned), which it is my understanding that these fall under different provisions (but IANAL). Finally, a lottery ticket is usually a bearer instrument, just like a check made out to “Cash” or “Bearer”. Which means it can be handed over to anyone and become their legal property.
      There is a bit of muddiness here in that it seems the trash can this was pulled from was inside private property (i.e. the store), and thus it may be that the ticket rightfully belongs to the owner (or primary lesee) of the store.

  19. winstonthorne says:

    At least in the states in which I’ve lived (NY and NJ) tickets are bearer instruments. Perhaps the judge should look up that complex legal concept.

  20. whammypower788 says:

    Because of the fact that the first lady scanned it and saw loser, I think that she is entitled to the money, as if she had known that she’d won, she would’ve obviously kept it.

    • CommonSense(ಠ_ಠ) says:

      She should only be entitled to damages paid by the business that lied to her about her ticket, not the lottery commission.
      The person who found the ticket is entitled to $1 million from the lottery commission.
      Ther person who was dupped by the business into thinking their ticket was not a winner has every right to reclaim $1 million in damages from that person and business.

      They both should get $1 million, but the person lied to should get paid by the business owner not the lottery.

    • Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:


    • Lyn Torden says:

      No, she should get a separate million dollars because the scanner didn’t do its job.

  21. comedian says:

    From the Arkansas lottery website:

    Hello, winner! Here’s how to claim your Arkansas Scholarship Lottery prize:

    Sign your ticket (there’s a space to sign on the back). Tickets are bearer instruments — if you lose a ticket before you sign it, you no longer have valid ownership of the ticket.


    • BStu78 says:

      Alabama lottery guidelines have less force of law that you imagine. In this case, they warn of a potential outcome, but they do not necessarily bind a court of law to that warning. They caution that a court is free to disregard their claim to ownership. They don’t, and I suspect can’t, mandate a court disregard their claim to ownership.

  22. HalOfBorg says:

    If the store routinely allows people/that person to collect tickets/whatever from the trash, they can not then, after the fact, claim they had no tight to the ticket.

  23. Rachacha says:

    If the original owner accidentally dropped the ticket, then the finer should return the ticket, however if it was purposefully thrown in the trash, it was no longer wanted by the owner, the finder can exert full rights.

  24. Bugley says:

    So wait – @Finders-keepers people – if you retrieve a million dollars in some *other* form (cash, diamond necklace, or whatever) from a trash can, you’d just walk off with it?

  25. IowaCowboy says:

    Here in Massachusetts, lottery tickets are bearer instruments unless they are signed by the purchaser in Ink.

  26. MedicallyNeedy says:

    If she handed it to the teller to scan for her and there is video it’s time to slap on some cuffs.

  27. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    I don’t get 2 things:

    1. How the original owner “scanned” the ticket and found that it was worthless
    2. How abandoning a lottery ticket is any different than abandoning anything else – when you abandon something, someone else can take it…because you have abdicated ownership of said item.

    • RandomHookup says:

      From the article, it appears the ticket wasn’t properly scratched off … which could have returned a negative from the scanner.

  28. 2 Replies says:

    You discard it, you’re giving up ALL rights to it.

  29. iamjustjules says:

    I thought you signed it to claim it as your own?

  30. Mr. Spy says:

    Two things.
    1) Person who tossed it forfeited the right to keep it.
    2) The person who found it was legally obliged to turn it in to the cops, as with all found items.

    So damn. I have no idea on this situation. Although I don’t agree with the judge here. Bottom line, she has the ticket in her hand.

    I also wonder how anybody found out. I mean, if I got it out of the trash, I wouldn’t say a word about that.

    Oh, I guess there is a third option. The specific rules/laws of the lottery might side with the original buyer, although I don’t know anything about that.

    • RandomHookup says:

      What do you base #2 on? Is there a legal obligation to return abandoned (vs. mislaid) property before assuming ownership? Only of a certain dollar value?

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      You are wrong about #2. There are two concepts at play – abandonment, and misplaced.

      If someone misplaces an item – like, you ride the bus to work and you forget to grab your purse when you get off at your stop, that’s considered a “misplaced” item and you still own it – someone else who finds it has no legal rights to it. In that case, if you found such an item, you’d probably better take it to the fuzz.

      If someone abandons an item – like, they put it in a trash can – they have abdicated ownership of said item and if you want it, it’s yours. Local regulations notwithstanding…like, I believe in NYC trash actually becomes the property of the city at the time that the original owner abandons it. But, generally speaking, if you see someone futzing with their iPhone and the guy yells “that’s it! I have had it with this stupid f%cking thing” and throws it in the bushes and walks away from it, it’s pretty clear his intention is to abandon it, and you can go and find it in the bushes and it’s yours.

      Naturally, there is room for confusion between the two…like, maybe the woman who left her purse on the bus actually intended to do so as abandonment…but in the end, your #2 is not an absolute truth.

    • MurderGirl says:

      Clicked through to the story, and the lottery people were satisfied that the finder was the rightful winner.

  31. WalterSinister2 says:

    IIRC from my law school days, abandoned property belongs to the finder, even against the original owner. There may be some different rule for lottery tickets though.

  32. legolex says:

    A million years ago I worked on a lottery machine and sold numbers and instant tickets. There were a few occasions when either an employee or a customer would find a winning instant ticket in the trash because someone didn’t realize it was a winner. That ticket then belonged to the person that fished it out.

  33. damicatz says:

    There is an old joke :

    Q:What do you call a lawyer who is too stupid to be in private practice?
    A:Your Honor

    Once again, we have another robed shyster who has completely disregarded all established law and decided to rule by fiat turning the courtroom into his own personal fiefdom. The proper legal term here is “abandoned property” as in once you put something in a public garbage can, it’s considered abandoned and free for the taking. The “burden of proof” is on the plaintiff, not the defendant because the plaintiff is the one making the pleading and therefore has to back up, with a preponderance of evidence, their claim that the property was not abandoned despite being put in a public trashcan.

    In fact, I just did a five minute Google Scholar search (which apparently is more research than the judge bothered to do) and gee whiz, look what I found :

    Rikard v. State 123 SW 3d 114, 354 Ark. 345 – Ark: Supreme Court, 2003

    Oh look, it’s case law. Yeah, it’s kinda important when your making a decision to follow the precedents of higher courts via stare decesis. That whole common law thing, ya know?

    And let’s just take a looksee and see what it says :
    When you use the word trash, how—how do we define trash? It’s—it is refuse. It—it’s abandoned property. It’s property that people no longer have any use for and discard. And I would suggest that the [California v.] Greenwood [,486 U.S. 35, 42, 108 S.Ct. 1625, 100 L.Ed.2d 30 (1988),] case is still appropriate and should be the law in Arkansas because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in one’s trash. If you choose to keep those items private and free from search, then they shouldn’t be placed in a trash receptacle.

  34. Bog says:

    Finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers. Move the money to an out of state bank.

  35. Slader says:

    I think the only real winners will be the lawyers.

  36. n0th1ng says:

    So how did the woman who threw away the ticket find out that this other woman found her ticket in the trash? If I found a ticket anywhere why would I tell someone I found it in the trash? Unless the original woman’s name was on the ticket?

  37. MikeVx says:

    A variation on my previous comments on lottery tickets. If you have a winning ticket for any non-trivial amount, TELL NO ONE for at least three months.

    In this sort of case, a ticket fished out of the trash, after 3 to 6 months, the probability of the original purchaser remembering the purchase is so close to zero as makes no odds. Who is going to remember tossing a “non-winning” ticket months later? The probability of camera footage being around that long is pretty low as well. Absent some short-term memory-jog, the event is gone.

  38. buddyedgewood says:

    The Finder needs a new [competent] lawyer, as this should have been a slam dunk in court. Hell, if I found (on the ground outside, in the trash, even on the counter of the store) an unsigned lottery ticket and it turned out to be a winner, I’d sign the back straightaway and notify the lottery commission that they have a winner! Whoever wants to claim the ticket, good luck, it’s got my name all over it.

    • BStu78 says:

      That only is useful for the Lottery Commission. Indeed, in this case, the lottery commission did pay out to the finder per their regulations. That doesn’t magically confer ownership rights to the ticket or the proceeds of that ticket in a court of law. Its a great way to get paid $1,000,000, but an actually quite weak way of keeping it.

  39. TRRosen says:

    Both are wrong. items abandoned on private property belong to the property owner by default thus the store owns the ticket. The original holder has no standing because she abandoned the ticket and the trash pick took the ticket off from private property which is basically theft. Had she found it on the street its all hers.

  40. resistor says:

    I might want to hold the Lottery Corp somewhat responsible, allthough I don’t know if they can prove that the ‘ticket scanner’ said that the ticket was ‘not a winner’.

    Actually I am the sucker who buys the tickets every month for a group at work . 22 people put in $20.00 a month and I buy the tickets for the month divided by the number of draws that month by the dollar amount. I photocopy the ‘purchased tickets’ with all the relevant code numbers and bar codes and keep that for a record. I send that scanned copy to all the participants via e mail.

    We have draws twice a week. The morning after the draw I check the lottery website and write the ‘winning combination’ down and check the tickets later.

    I only cash the tickets in at the end of the month so I just keep a running tally of how much we may have won allthough it’s not more than an average for a monthly total around $50 to $80.00

    At the end of the month I check the ‘tickets’ on the ‘ticket scanner’ In the store. I sign the tickets and when the store enters then into their machine, the screen facing customers flashes the amount won or say’s ‘not a winner’. The clerk then he gives me back all of the original tickets, now voided and receipts generated by the lottery machine which has all of the code numbers (related to the barcode) that match the original ticket..

    It’s a pretty simple process of verification.

    So back to these 2.

    First off I say WTF to the original purchaser for not checking the winning numbers (available in newspapers and even at the store on a printout) against her numbers instead of just relying on the scanner.

    Now what we don’t know is ‘did she sign the ticket?’ If not, how could they prove it was hers?

    Is it possible the ‘scanner’ made a mistake? Yes anything is possible and I suppose that’s why she threw it into the garbage.

    Now for the 2nd person going through the garbage to find discarded tickets, well that’s pretty interesting in itself and the fact she found a winner is even more bizarre.

    Based on what I read I say the finder keeps the money. The only thing that would persuade me otherwise, and what the story dosen’t tell us is how can the purchaser prove that this is her ticket via a signature.


  41. BStu78 says:

    “Finders Keepers” is a playground taunt, not an actual legal principle. Indeed, its not even a good playground principle as kids are taught to make every effort to return lost items to rightful owners.

    If you want to rely on the notion that this was not a lost item but an intentionally discarded one, it still would not follow that the “finder” has any rightful claim here. People keep pointing out that police can seize trash without a warrant, but that’s not really true. They can seize trash left on the street for pick-up. Even that’s not consistently seen as discarded as some cities fine people for riffling through trash, regarding it as city property the moment it is left on the street for pick-up. The item here was discarded in a store. At most, it then becomes the store’s property. Given that the store could be realistically held responsible for the owner discarding the item given the mistaken suggestion that it had no value, it would be manifestly unfair to then permit the store to transfer ownership of that item once discarded. And according to the case, the store did no such thing anyway. The “finder” merely argues that no one told her not to remove the store’s property. That’s no claim of ownership.

    Arkansas law on finders of lost property is as clear as pretty much every other jurisdiction. A finder has no claim against a rightful owner. If someone can prove to the court that they the rightful owner to the court’s satisfaction, that’s it. End of discussion.