Florida Lottery Scandal: Hundreds Denied Winnings Over Unemployment Overpayments

A troubling scandal is unfolding in Florida, where hundreds of residents, including a struggling mother, are being denied their lottery winnings due to alleged state debts linked to unemployment overpayments. This has led to significant distress and financial hardships for many affected individuals.

Brittany Wilson, a young mother from Florida, won $5,000 from a scratch-off lottery ticket in January 2023. However, her excitement quickly turned to despair when she was informed by the Florida Lottery District Office that her winnings would be withheld because she “may owe state-debt.” This news was devastating for Wilson, who had been counting on the money to pay off bills and support her two children.

“It was hard for me during that time,” Wilson told ABC Action News. “I was financially struggling … something just told me to go to the store and try out my winnings.”

Instead of celebrating her win, Wilson was directed to consult the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, now known as the Department of Commerce. She was told she might owe the state money for previously received unemployment benefits. However, Wilson questioned the legitimacy of the state’s claim, noting that she had never received any communication regarding the debt and had not encountered any issues when she won $1,000 from a scratch-off card the previous year.

Despite her attempts to resolve the issue, Wilson faced numerous obstacles. She contacted the Florida Unemployment Assistance Program almost daily, only to encounter lengthy wait times and unhelpful responses. Frustrated by the lack of assistance, Wilson expressed her disbelief at the state’s inability to notify her about the alleged debt while being able to track her employment status for unemployment qualifications.

“Something has to be done. This cannot keep happening – with the times now, where [the price of] everything’s going up: rent’s going up, food’s going up. Let me have this money,” she added.

Following an investigation by ABC, Wilson was eventually able to collect her winnings, and her alleged debt was wiped from the system. However, the reason behind the withholding of her winnings and the continued occurrence of similar issues for many other Floridians remains unclear.

ABC’s reporting revealed that Wilson is not alone. Thousands of Floridians have received similar messages when attempting to collect their lottery winnings, being told that their prizes are being withheld due to past overpaid unemployment compensation. While some individuals have successfully fought the claims and received their winnings, the problem persists, leaving many in financial limbo.

Kylie McGivern, another affected individual, has been struggling to get in touch with anyone at the Commerce Department who could provide answers regarding the widespread issue. The department has been cagey about disclosing the reasons behind the claims, further complicating efforts to resolve the situation.

This scandal has highlighted significant flaws in the state’s handling of unemployment overpayments and its impact on lottery winners. As the cost of living continues to rise, the withholding of lottery winnings has caused undue stress and hardship for many Floridians who rely on these funds to make ends meet.

The Florida Lottery and the Department of Commerce have yet to provide a comprehensive explanation for the withholding of winnings and the steps being taken to address the issue. As more residents come forward with similar stories, the need for transparency and resolution becomes increasingly urgent.

The plight of Brittany Wilson and others like her underscores the necessity for better communication and fair treatment of lottery winners. Until the underlying issues are resolved, the Florida Lottery scandal will continue to cast a shadow over the dreams of many hopeful players.

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