New Jersey Lottery Pulls Poker Scratch-Off Game After High-Hand Controversy

Those who had a chance to buy the New Jersey Lottery’s $5 scratcher High Card Poker hit a short window.

The state lottery pulled the scratch-off game after just three days, citing players misunderstanding the rules. The New Jersey Lottery’s announcement came after several players who thought they’d won a hand actually didn’t.

One of those players, Bloomfield resident Robert Chalet, spoke with news outlet TAPinto.net about his experience.

Lotto card doesn’t play by traditional poker rules

Here’s the scenario. Chalet spent $5 on a High Card Poker scratcher, thinking the card employed traditional high-hand poker rules.

He scratched off all his hands — eight in total — in the hopes he could beat the house’s queen-high.

Well, it turned out he could. The house was holding Q-10-6-6-4, and Chalet had Q-J-9-6-5. For Chalet, his hand was a winner, and he fully expected to cash in his $150,000 prize.

Chalet won the hand according to poker rules. Anytime there’s a high-card tie between two hands, it’s the second highest card in the hand that decides the winner. In this case, Chalet’s jack beat the house’s 10.

More importantly though, the scratch-off rules read “do not consider a tie,” NorthJersey.com reported in its coverage of the fiasco.

The point of conflict: Rule wording was cloudy

The entire issue here revolves around the vocabulary included on each game. NJ.com reported the New Jersey Lottery noted, “As the game’s rules state, a player’s high card must be higher than any other card in hand without any pair in order to win the top-tier prize.”

In other words, Chalet’s tie didn’t count because his highest card, a queen, wasn’t higher than the house’s highest card, also a queen.

However, it’s easy to see why Chalet and other player were under the impression they’d won. The front of the now defunct game said, “Scratch off all cards. If any of YOUR HANDS beats the DEALER’S HAND, win PRIZE shown for that HAND.”

We went to the TAPinto.net story ourselves to investigate and found not only a photo of the front of Chalet’s winning ticket but also a photo of its back.

That photo revealed a hierarchy of poker hands and, on the very last example hand labeled “HIGH CARD,” an ace-high hand is shown with the following explanation beneath it:

“Your high card is higher than any other card in hand without any pair.”

Is the NJ Lottery using rules ambiguity as an out?

Those words above seem to be the death knell for Chalet’s argument, except for one fact: It doesn’t address what happens when there’s a tie.

We can interpret the absence of an explanation one of two ways.

Anyone whose ever played more than a few hands of poker would say the tiebreaker is the next highest card in the hands. In this case, Chalet is the winner.

It could also be argued that, since there is no expressed rule on tie-breaking, the New Jersey Lottery has retained the liberty to legislate rules any way it wants.

Image credit: Icatnews / Shutterstock.com