10 Audacious Lottery Scams And Scandals
Millions of people dream of winning the lottery, even though the chances of winning the jackpot are astronomical. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning, becoming president, or winning an Olympic gold medal. That’s why some people don’t leave it to fate. They just try to cheat the system to win the jackpot.
10 The Cash WinFall Scandal
Shortly after the lottery game Cash WinFall was released by the Massachusetts State Lottery in 2004, people with extensive knowledge of probability and statistics found a strange quirk in the prize structure. The game would build up to a $2 million jackpot about every three months, and then there would be a draw for the $2 million. As long as no one won the $2 million, which had only happened once in seven years, the game paid out a large number of smaller prizes in what was called a “rolldown week.”
After the probabilities of winning were calculated for this game, it became apparent that if someone spent $100,000 on tickets, they were extremely likely to make a profit on their investment during rolldown weeks. Also, the more someone spent, the greater the winnings they could expect to receive. In 2010, a group of MIT students realized that if they spent enough money, they could push the jackpot to $2 million by themselves and create a rolldown week without anyone else knowing. They bought 700,000 tickets and won 860 of 983 tickets that had prizes of $600 or more.
Between 2004 and 2010, a small group of gamblers spent $40 million and won a total of $48 million off their tickets. Officials at the Massachusetts State Lottery apparently knew about the flaw in the system, but they kept the game going because they were making a profit selling to people on the other 350 days of the year. The game was finally discontinued in 2010 after a report was published by The Boston Globe.
9 Virginia State Lottery Scandal
The Virginia State Lottery was just a few years old when they announced a $27 million jackpot to be drawn on February 15, 1992. The jackpot caused a stir in the area, with people lining up to buy tickets. But shortly after the tickets went on sale, lottery officials noticed that the tickets were selling too well.
It’s unclear how they found out about the lottery, but an investment syndicate from Australia realized that the lottery was a lucrative investment. The lottery involved picking six numbers from 1 to 44, yielding slightly more than seven million combinations that could contain the winning number. So the syndicate spent over $5 million buying $1 lottery tickets. The only reason they did not buy every possible number was because of lack of time.
One of the syndicate’s five million tickets was the jackpot winner, so the Virginia State Lottery was forced to pay the $27 million prize. After the drawing, they made changes to the lottery to discourage block purchases. Also, the odds of winning the lottery have become much worse. If the syndicate wanted to pull the same scheme today, they would need to buy over 175 million tickets.
8 Andy And Nayel Ashkar
Just before a $5 million scratch ticket was about to expire in March 2012, Andy and Nayel Ashkar of Syracuse, New York, brought the winning ticket to the New York Lottery office. But there were a few problems with their claim.
Andy said that he had purchased the ticket in 2006, but he waited to claim the prize because he was engaged and didn’t want the money to affect the relationship. He also told the lottery office that he would take less than $5 million if he could skip the press conference where they announced the winners. Lottery officials traced the sale of the ticket to the store that Andy and Nayel’s parents owned. All of these things made lottery officials suspicious of the brothers.
When the office made a public announcement that the brothers were claiming the ticket, Robert Miles contacted the lottery office and told them that the ticket was his. After Miles had purchased the ticket in 2006, he thought that he had won $5 million. When Miles went to the store owned by the Ashkars, the brothers convinced him that he had only won $5,000.
Addicted to crack at the time, Miles got confused and believed them. The brothers offered Miles $4,000 for the ticket so that he didn’t have to claim it and wait for the money, which would have been taxed. He agreed, although he always suspected that the brothers had ripped him off. But he didn’t think he could do anything about it. If he accused them, it would be his word against theirs, and Miles didn’t think anyone would believe a crack addict. Miles needed the money, too. He declared bankruptcy in 2008.
After Miles claimed the ticket, the brothers were arrested. Nayel was acquitted, and Andy was originally given 8.5 to 25 years in prison. In July 2015, his sentence was reduced to 5 to 15 years. Miles was awarded his prize in August 2013.
7 Remmele Mazyck
Remmele Mazyck was the deputy security director of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery from July 2009 to November 2012. His career came to an end when it was discovered that Mazyck was stealing from work. Not just pens or even a stapler—he was stealing scratch tickets.
Between November 2009 and October 2012, Mazyck stole 22,171 tickets in all and claimed almost $500,000 in prize money. Mazyck had taken the tickets from the vendor’s warehouse and assigned them to vendors that were no longer selling tickets. Then he went into the computer system and marked the tickets as promotional.
Lottery officials finally caught up with Mazyck after they noticed a disproportionate number of winning tickets tied to one lottery vendor. Their investigation led to Mazyck, who was arrested and pleaded guilty to fraud. In November 2013, Mazyck was sentenced to three years and one month in prison and was forced to pay back $482,672.
6 The Super 7 Swindle
In April 1988, Mark Herbst, a 33-year-old clerk at a video store, went to the Pennsylvania Lottery office with a winning ticket from July 15, 1987, to claim his prize of $15.2 million. Herbst said that after he bought the ticket, he had used it as a bookmark and then thrown it in a cigar box. He checked it after he read a newspaper article about unclaimed lottery prizes.
The lottery office immediately checked the ticket and found a problem with it. Their records said that the winning ticket had been printed in Bucks County, but Herbst’s ticket had been printed at an outlet in Scranton. Despite the inconsistency, the lottery office held a press conference announcing Herbst as the winner and handed him a check for his first payment of $469,989.55.
Two hours after the announcement, investigators determined that the ticket was a forgery. They called Herbst’s bank and told them that the check wouldn’t be paid. On May 1, the police confronted Herbst. He confessed and gave them information about his partner, computer expert Henry Rich. Rich worked for Control Data Corporation, which provided the computer services for the Pennsylvania Lottery office. Rich had been able to scan for unclaimed prizes and then manipulate the computer to print out the winning ticket for $15.2 million.
Rich was arrested when he tried to pick up his ill-gotten winnings at the video store where Herbst worked. Both men pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including fraud. Rich received 5 to 10 years in prison while Herbst was given two to four years.
5 Zhao Liqun
Sometime in 2005, lottery agent Zhao Liqun, who lived in Anshan, China, found a flaw in the Welfare Lottery “3D” system that allowed him to print tickets with the winning numbers within five minutes of the numbers being announced. He printed a number of these winning tickets from his three machines and then claimed a number of cash prizes himself. Thinking it might look suspicious if he constantly won the lottery, he had some of his family and friends cash in tickets and bring the money to him, for a grand total of 28 million yuan (US $3.8 million).
By the end of 2006, the Welfare Lottery Center of Liaoning Province had uncovered the scam. Liqun was arrested in January 2007. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Although he appealed in November 2007, the verdict was upheld.
4 Ontario Lottery And Gaming Corporation Corruption Scandal
Between 1999 and 2006, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation in Canada received a number of fraudulent lottery claims by lottery vendors. One of the most notable cases happened in 2003. Store owner Jun-Chul Chung and his son, Kenneth Chung, had regularly stolen winning tickets from people who checked their tickets at the Chungs’ convenience store in Burlington, Ontario.
The Chungs would say the tickets were losers, keep them, and later claim the prizes themselves. This included the December 26, 2003, Super 7 jackpot that was worth $12.5 million. Two months after stealing the ticket, Kathleen Chung, daughter of Jun-Chul, claimed the jackpot. Officials at the lottery office were suspicious but paid the money anyway.
Over the next few years, the lottery office and the Ontario Provincial Police investigated the disproportionate number of lottery sellers who were winning the lottery. At the same time, Canadian news programs broadcast exposes about the problem. In 2007, the Ontario ombudsman released a report about the problem, spotlighting the Chungs’ claim as one of five suspicious cases. Another $100 million was believed to have been won by insiders, including 214 out of 5,713 big jackpots.
In 2010, all three of the Chungs were charged with fraud and money laundering. The lottery also made an appeal to the public to find the real winners. After a short time, they confirmed the true purchaser of the jackpot ticket—six coworkers who laid cable for a living. In January 2011, they were awarded the jackpot plus interest.
3 The Milan Lotto Scandal
Between December 1998 and January 1999, police in Milan, Italy, arrested nine people in connection with a convoluted lottery fraud that may have been going on for years. At the time, each Italian city held its own lottery. Milan put all their lottery numbers on silver balls, with blindfolded children drawing the winning numbers from a tumbler. This process seems like it would ensure randomness, yet the system was fixed.
With many related to tax officials, the children were bribed with toys to pick the right numbers. They were told to feel for balls that were smoother and larger than the other ones.
The fraud probably went on for six years until the finance ministry official who hatched the scheme was posted to a different job. But his coconspirators weren’t ready to give up the money. They wanted the official to get employees at his old posting to restart the scam, but he refused. So the coconspirators started harassing him, even firing a gun at his car and at his relatives’ businesses. His wife went to the police, which led to the arrests.
2 The Hot Lotto Scandal
In December 2010, officials from the Multi-State Lottery Association (MSLA) announced the winning numbers for a $16.5 million Hot Lotto jackpot. Almost a year later on November 9, 2011, Canadian lawyer Philip Johnston called lottery headquarters in Des Moines to say he had the winning ticket. He asked if they could just send him a check because he was too sick to travel.
The lottery office, which had surveillance footage of the purchase at a Des Moines gas station, asked Johnston some easy questions to confirm his purchase of the ticket. Johnston answered incorrectly, so his bid was denied.
Two weeks later, Johnston called back, supposedly on behalf of an anonymous, rich client who wanted the prize money transferred into a Belize trust account for Hexham Investments. Johnston was denied again because the law required lottery winners to be publicly identified.
Then Robert Sonfield of Houston, Texas—the person in possession of the physical ticket—sent the ticket by Federal Express to Crawford Shaw, a lawyer friend in New York City. Shaw hired a law firm in Des Moines and sent the ticket to them.
Less than two hours before the deadline to claim the prize, the Des Moines lawyers went to the lottery office and demanded that the money be transferred to Hexham Investments. But Shaw had misspelled “Hexham” on the legal forms, so again, the bid was denied. Shaw also met with lottery officials but was unsuccessful in getting the money. By this time, lottery officials had begun an investigation.
They traced Robert Sonfield, the man with the ticket, to Eddie Tipton, the director of security for the MSLA, through a mutual friend named Robert Rhodes. There was also evidence from the lottery’s “Draw Room” that allegedly implicated Tipton, one of only five people with access to the secure room.
Allegedly, Tipton tampered with the security cameras in the Draw Room on November 20, 2010. Then he returned to the room a short time later and hacked the computer to pick the winning numbers. On December 23, Tipton or an accomplice purchased the winning ticket. Tipton then passed the ticket to Rhodes and Sonfield, and they got the lawyers involved.
Tipton was arrested and convicted in July 2015. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but he is currently out on bail pending an appeal.
1 Ashwinder Singh
In July 2011, an unidentified, 61-year-old man brought his Lotto 6/49 ticket to a gas station in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to be checked. After checking the ticket, cashier Ashwinder Singh, 32, purposely kept the ticket because it was for multiple draws and the customer didn’t notice.
Later in the week, the older man thought he had lost the ticket that Singh had kept, so he just bought another ticket with the same numbers he played every week. When the drawing occurred, both tickets won over $90,000 each. When both Singh and the man tried to claim the prize, officials with Western Canada Lottery Corporation knew that something strange was going on. They interviewed Singh, and he admitted to keeping the first lottery ticket.
As Singh wasn’t the rightful owner of the first ticket, the unidentified man was awarded both payouts, totaling more than $180,000. In a poetic stroke of luck for the unidentified man, he won twice as much because he would never have bought the second ticket if Singh had given him the original ticket back. After pleading guilty to attempted fraud, Singh received an 18-month conditional sentence plus probation in September 2013.