In the African nation of Zimbabew, the idea of “money” there is so incredibly worthless that the government actually prints notes of $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000!) Sadly, you couldn’t buy a double-cheeseburger of the buck McMenu for this worthless currency. But America has better fiscal security than that, right? Not if you ask residents of Illinois who have won $600 or more since last January. The state has been issuing paper IOUs, basically telling them, “We don’t have money; we will pay you when we can.”

The odds of winning hundreds of dollars in already one in thousands, and the odds that you will get your money from the state of Illinois (at least in the near term) is now one in millions. People who are owned smaller sums, like the minimum of $600, which requires a mailed check ($599 or less is given at participating stores), still have not received their money after nearly a full year of waiting.

According to lottery officials in the state, Illinois is actually solvent and has plenty of money to pay its bills, especially its lotto bills. However, these officials blame the government for a lack of a state budget. So, if you didn’t know before, now you know: Lottery winnings must be earmarked into the fiscal budget of a state before the money can be paid. Yet another area where the red tape of bureaucracy slows everything to a snail’s pace.

According to the state, it will pay the lotto winnings as soon as the state sets a budget. When will that be? Anyone’s guess is as good as another person’s; there is no set date on when that budget will pass. In the mean, however, some lotto winners have started suing Illinois, and one suit alleges that Illinois actually owes in excess of $288 million in cash and prizes, none of which have been paid out as promised. This makes for a pretty good case for Illinois residents to buy their lottery tickets online where they can play lotteries from other states such as Powerball and Megamillions or even from other countries via international lotteries through reputable offshore sites who don’t issue IOU’s when players win.

The lottery system is obviously one of extreme luck, but it is also one of inherent trust. If and when you are lucky enough to scratch off that $1,000 winner at the grocery store, or hit the pick-3 for $20,000 one night, you don’t expect to hang out with Warren Buffett at the yacht club, but you do expect your money. That has always been the quid pro quo: You shovel your dollar bills into the lotto, and you are paid if you win. Illinois not living up to its end of the bargain calls the trust of state lotteries nationwide into question, and it definitely illustrates how fragile the idea of “money” actually is in America.

If a piece of paper is green, printed by the Federal Reserve and has a picture of a dead president or forefather on it, you can trade that paper bill in for goods and services. Though an IOU printed on a piece of paper, given to you by the government, is absolutely worthless. You couldn’t find a down-on-their-luck bar to take those off your hands for 50 cents on the dollar. They’re just pieces of paper.

To date, most people in Illinois with these IOUs are simply seeking their hundreds of dollars, or a few thousand. Though just imagine if someone hits a huge million-dollar jackpot. The state will end up having to pay out a lot in lawsuits if they keep going in this direction. And it is no one’s fault but the state’s. That they cannot even come together to set a state budget says a lot about the quality of elected officials there. If you think lotto winners are suffering, just imagine the state of the schools, public union road jobs, and industries like the police and firefighters. It must be a mess.