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Lottery winners waiting on lawmakers, prize money put on hold until a budget is passed

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CHICAGO - Several residents in Illinois thought they had finally hit the jackpot when they won thousands of dollars through the state's lottery.

However, it seems their luck has run out.

In all, 29 lottery winners are still waiting for their winnings following a budget freeze.

Since July, the state lottery says it won't make any large payments until lawmakers pass a state budget.

"All winners will be paid in full as soon as the Lottery and the Illinois Comptroller have the legislative authority to do so," said Stephen Rossi, the lottery's spokesman. "Currently, winners may claim prizes under $600 at any of our 8,000 retail locations, and prizes under $25,000 may be claimed at any Lottery claims center."

However, winners who should be awarded more than $25,000 will have to wait.

"Without a budget, we can't, by law, make any payments on an appropriated fund without a court order or consent decree or statutory continuing appropriation," said Rich Carter, press secretary for the Illinois Comptroller's office.

Now, two lottery winners have filed a class-action lawsuit against the lottery.

Attorneys say that while the budget crisis is causing problems for the winners, they say it is not stopping the lottery from selling tickets.

"People buying lottery tickets assume that a state-run lottery will be fair. The state has the prize money on deposit in the Lottery Fund, yet it is refusing to pay lottery winners. Meanwhile, the state is earning interest on the unpaid prize money," said Thomas Zimmerman, Jr., an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Lottery officials say instead of filing a lawsuit, the winners should contact their representatives and pressure them to pass a budget.

"We don't know if there will be a budget, when there will be a budget, and why should the lottery winners have to suffer?" Zimmerman said.