The Oregon Lottery had a winner. But for more than three months, the $6.4-million jackpot went unclaimed.
Then, on Dec. 1, an Iraqi man walked into the lottery office in Portland asking for his money.
Lottery officials weren’t sure what to do.
The ticket was indeed the winner. It had been purchased for $1 at a store in Bend, Ore.
But the man, who lives in Baghdad, had bought it through the Lotter, a website that gives customers access to the 45 largest lotteries in the world by sending locals to buy the tickets.
“Is this legal?” Oregon Lottery spokesman Chuck Baumann said officials wondered. “Of all the what-ifs, we never imagined, ‘What if this guy from Iraq walks in?’”
In the end, the man was paid, but only after a review by the Oregon Justice Department and lawyers from the U.S. attorney’s office in Portland.
Federal law prevents ticket purchasers from other states from winning. A New Jersey police officer learned that lesson in 1994 when a Houston judge blocked his attempt to collect a $10.5-million jackpot from the Texas Lottery.
But the law says nothing about international purchases.
The Lotter, which lists payment processing centers in Belize and Cyprus, does not list a telephone number and did not respond to emails seeking comment.
The site is one of several that allow customers to buy lottery tickets via computers or phones. The sites usually charge a small percentage of the cost of each ticket.
“You don’t go to Berlin to buy a Volkswagen or pass through Rome to get an espresso,” says an online ad for the Lotter.
The winners are on their own when it comes to collecting their money. Most lotteries will pay only the person who physically possesses the ticket.
It took the Iraqi winner three months to get a U.S. visa to make the trip to Portland.
In an unprecedented move, lottery officials said they were not releasing the man’s name because he feared the newfound wealth would endanger his family in Iraq.
In his only interview, he told the Portland alternative newspaper Willamette Week that he is Kurdish, 37 years old, married with two sons, and owner of a trading company in Iraq.
“The situation in Iraq is not good,” he told the newspaper. “It’s very dangerous. If my name were revealed, it would be a big problem.”
He told the newspaper he would probably give the money to his children.
He will receive his winnings over time. The first $160,000 was deposited Friday into a bank account he set up in the U.S. Thirty-eight percent of the jackpot goes to state and federal taxes.
It is not the first time a massive U.S. jackpot has been won from abroad.
In 1992, a group of Australians won $27 million in a Virginia lottery. They were part of a group that pooled their money to buy every single six-digit combination.