Thirteen players cashed at least 20 tickets paying more than $600 in 2011
Most people who play the lottery won't win more than a few bucks. But there are people in South Florida who win big money almost every week.
A Plantation woman has won at least $600 more than 240 times in the past 19 years, according to a Sun Sentinel analysis of individual Florida Lottery winnings dating to 1993. A Hollywood man won $5,000 at least 52 times last year. The winningest player for 2011, a resident of Pasco County, cashed 100 Play 4 tickets for a total of $500,000.
These winners are bound by more than just luck. They all play games that offer better odds than Powerball or Lotto. And they play them regularly, almost methodically.
"Cash 3 and Play 4 players tend to be more consistent and regular in their play," lottery secretary Cynthia F. O'Connell said. "They play at least one drawing a day and sometimes both."
Consider the odds: Powerball players have a one-in-175 million chance of winning. The probability of selecting six of 53 numbers in Lotto is one in 23 million. The odds of buying a winning Play 4 ticket are considerably better — one in 10,000, though the maximum payout is $5,000.
The Sun Sentinel analysis examined winnings of $600 or more, including the scratch-off games. Winners who receive less than $600 are not required to fill out identifying information and may claim winnings directly from retailers.
Play 4, which is drawn twice daily, has more winners in the Florida Lottery's database of reportable wins than any other game. Another twice-daily game, Cash 3, pays $500.
Mike Patel, owner of Tuzzo's Circle News in Hollywood, said some customers will drop $200 or more a day on tickets. "But for others, it's just a hobby," he said.
A convenience-store owner in Orlando, who doesn't want to be identified, hit Play 4 30 times in 2011 after buying $30 worth of tickets a day — as he had been doing for years. His four numbers came up once in 2011. For one Plantation woman, who declined to be interviewed, Play 4 has yielded at least $1.2 million. Since 1996, she has cashed 248 Play 4 tickets at about six convenience stores, according to the Lottery's database.
"She's a nice lady, but sometimes, she comes in here to play all her numbers. It holds up the line," one employee of a Plantation store said. "Then, the non-lottery part of our business suffers."
A Miami laborer said he's in the red this year, even though he won $150,000 by hitting 30 Play 4s in 2011.
"No, I'm not ahead," he said. "You always play more than you win. But it's a choice you make. I like playing."
Of about a dozen multiple winners contacted by the Sun Sentinel, none wanted to be named. That's to be expected, said Pat Fowler, of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling.
"If you're winning multiple times on the daily games, I'd have to assume you must be playing frequently," she said. "And as they begin to develop various levels of problem gambling, they become much more secretive about it. They don't want people to know how much they're gambling, or that they're losing."
The state requires players who have won $600 or more to cash their tickets at a lottery district office, which in South Florida means either Miami or West Palm Beach. A recent Monday morning visit to the lottery office in Miami found about 75 players waiting to cash their tickets.
Miami resident Chris Bee, who arrived with a winning Monopoly scratch-off ticket, said he's lost money on the lottery this year.
"I play a lot, and I lose a lot," he said. "But when you hit that lucky one ... "
O'Connell, the lottery secretary, said focusing on players who have won $600 or more is somewhat arbitrary, because many people who don't win big amounts still enjoy the games.
"Winners might get $10, $100, $200, and they're excited and enthusiastic about that, and they'll come back and play some more," she said. "And there are millions of them that love our product."
That includes Safritz Massenat, 83, a daily player at a Shop 'N' Save Mini Mart in Fort Lauderdale. He said he spends $50 to $100 a day on a variety of games, and has seen plenty of people here win. Records show the Shop 'N' Save has had 98 winners of $600 more, totaling $311,824.
But no Powerball or Lotto winners, he noted.
"The big one," he said. "That's when you'll hear from me. And it might be tonight."