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12 March 2015


Did you ever watch that movie, It Could Happen to You? Nicolas Cage plays a police officer, Bridget Fonda plays a waitress in a diner, and in lieu of a tip, Cage offers to give Fonda half the winnings from his lottery ticket. She good-naturedly accepts, but then is shocked when Cage arrives a few days later with a cheque for $2,000,000 - exactly half his lottery winnings as promised! The story takes some twists and turns, but as is usual with romantic comedies, everyone lives happily ever after and our faith in humanity is restored.

While it makes for good cinema, it's not exactly the type of story that would play out in real life. We often say to friends or family "oh I'll give you half my lottery jackpot when I win", or promise them huge sums of money to help them out, but usually only because we never dream for a second that we'd actually win, and then have to give away the money we've promised. Think about it - if you light-heartedly promised a close friend a certain amount of money from your lottery jackpot, and then amazingly enough you actually won, would you honour your verbal agreement, or would you keep all the money for yourself?

Lottery winner and liquor store owner in legal battle

It may be a hypothetical question to you, but to lottery winner Eva Reyes of California, it's a very real one, and a Hollywood movie plot brought to life - all thanks to a well-meaning promise to a store owner.

When Reyes first bought a scratch-off ticket at a Northern California liquor store in December, she was lucky enough to win $1,000 from her purchase. As a show of goodwill, she then gave the store owner, Laxmi Bhardwaj, a thank you gift of $100 from her winnings.

eva reyes lottery winner

When Reyes next came in to purchase a lottery ticket from the store, she again promised Bhardwaj a percentage of her potential winnings, this time in the amount of a generous $50,000. She wrote Bhardwaj a note confirming the gift of $50,000, signed it, and gave it to him for safekeeping.

However, no good deed goes unpunished as the saying goes - which is why Reyes now finds herself the defendant in a lawsuit brought against her by the very same store owner. Since hearing of Reyes' $1 million lottery win, Bhardwaj is now claiming that his lucky customer in fact promised him an even 50/50 split of her winnings, bringing his take to a total of $350,000 after taxes - ostensibly as a thank you for him having fronted the money for the tickets in the first place.

While Bhardwaj still has the note in his possession, both he and Reyes are at odds over its contents. Reyes contends that it promises him a share in the amount of $50,000 while Bhardwaj maintains that the note in fact credits him with $350,000. While the note in question does now reflect an amount of $350,000, Reyes and her lawyer are arguing that the "3" has been squeezed in next to the original $50,000, making it a fraudulent claim.

With neither party willing to relinquish their position, the only solution is a court battle, with the date having been set for 13 March. We'll keep an eye on the case and fill you in, but in the meantime, there's a lesson to be learned here - when it comes to promising lottery winnings to someone, be absolutely sure about the amount of money you're giving away, and to whom.

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