STRANGE GH: Man loses claim to winning lottery ticket when partner dies

Sep 12, 2011


In December of that year, Eugene Rowlson, who was a real estate partner of Jacob Barr and had an office in Chicago, purchased a Mexican lottery ticket with funds procured by Barr. Rowlson was born in New York and had lived in Grand Haven, befriending Barr several years earlier.

Apparently, the two played the lottery and took turns at who purchased the ticket. Routinely, Rowlson picked up the ticket and the agreement was: if it was a winner, both men would split the prize.

The number of one of their shared Mexican lottery tickets did come up a winner, but the drawing of that number occurred two days after Rowlson died unexpectedly at the age of 26.

Enter the deceased man’s heirs, who had received an express package of $10,000 addressed to Eugene Rowlson. The entire sum was deposited at Wells, Fargo & Co. in Chicago; and Jacob Barr filed suit to claim the entire cash prize as being the only surviving owner of the ticket. 

Heirs of Rowlson countersued to prevent the bank from paying Barr the money, and the case ended up in court and was reviewed by Judge Albert Jamieson.

Barr’s argument in his defense and claim was that lotteries were illegal in the state of Illinois; thus the heirs were not entitled to the prize under the law. At the time, participation in lotteries was legal in the state of Michigan.

On Dec. 17, 1889, Judge Jamieson ruled against Barr; judging he was not entitled to the $10,000 prize awarded in the winning Mexican lottery ticket purchased by Rowlson — whether Barr’s money had indeed purchased the ticket or not, or whether an agreement was established between the two men to split the winnings.

Judge Jamieson took occasion to say: “Because lotteries are illegal, the law does not authorize theft of prizes.” In other words, Jamieson delivered that ruling because Rowlson had received the money illegally; and to grant the benefits to a second party would constitute theft, or transfer of moneys illegally obtained, likened to contraband.”

In comparison, value of the $10,000 prize in today’s money would be close to $78,000.

Jacob Barr died in Chicago in April 1949 — $10,000 poorer, but wiser. He is buried in Lake Forest Cemetery.


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