Welcome Guest
Log In | Register )
The time is now 10:47 pm
You last visited October 24, 2014, 10:44 pm
All times shown are
Eastern Time (GMT-5:00)

Lottery mystery yields clues to $7.5 million prize

Insider BuzzInsider Buzz: Lottery mystery yields clues to $7.5 million prize
3.73
Rating:

This story has been removed at the author's request.

By Peter Mucha, Philly.com

Third of three parts
See Part 1 and Part 2

Ever notice that instant lottery tickets are consecutively numbered? Ever wonder if those numbers could help in a hunt for riches?

They theoretically can, at least in Texas.

They helped us create a list, predicting the whereabouts of a missing $7.5 million ticket.

A $50 scratch-off game called $7,500,000 Fortune started out with three top prizes among about 190,000 packs of tickets.

Our list of likely suspects for the last big prize is much, much shorter — just 332 packs, all from the early part of the game — and includes not only pack numbers but the retailers last known to have those packs.

You'll find a link to the list at the end of this story.

No guarantees or even recommendations are being made, especially since each pack of 20 costs $1,000 each.

The idea of personally chasing this grail was tempting, but without a bunch of money to burn (Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban never replied to an emailed invitation), a decision was made to simply spill the beans and see what happens.

Maybe folks who were going to play anyway will make or break the case.

First, a plea to the public:

If you bought a ticket for $7,500,000 Fortune and haven't scratched it, do so as soon as possible!

You might have already won $7.5 million. And you could save others from a wild goose chase.

Second, a plea to Texas:

No fair pulling the suggested tickets from stores.

Players were promised three top prizes in $7,500,000 Fortune, so Texas should live up to that guarantee. The game has already made lots of money, and no cheating was involved in creating our list.

This theory was developed while probing the mystery of lottery legend Joan Ginther, who won four multimillion-dollar prizes worth $20.4 million.

Judging from her relentless buying habits – she may have bought tens of thousands of tickets in at least eight games over eight years — Ginther did not use this strategy.

It relies on three key pieces of information: (1) Texas reveals the pack numbers of tickets that win top prizes. (2) Prizes in instant games are NOT randomly distributed. (3) The process of elimination is a powerful help in playing scratch-offs.

Texas didn't share winners' pack numbers until the fall of 2012, two years after Ginther won her last multimillion-dollar prize.

Of great help in analyzing this scratch-off theory were James Harvey and Yuran Lu, who beat the Massachusetts lottery's Cash WinFall game and now run a startup called ZeroMailer, a way to manage email lists. 

Here are some eye-opening insights into how scratch-off lotteries truly work.

1. Pack numbers

Most lottery tickets have a few sets of numbers and scannable codes.

One is a UPC or barcode, familiar on many products. Another is a security or verification code, used to verify that a ticket is a winner. It can resemble the QR codes that smartphones can scan.

Then there's usually a number used for tracking inventory, above another kind of barcode. Tickets are printed in "packs" or "books" – back-and-forth folded stacks wrapped in clear plastic – with a specified number of tickets per pack. In games printed by the country's dominant scratch-off printer, Scientific Games, each pack is also assigned a number and that number is also printed on the tickets in that pack.

Check out the above copy of one of Ginther's winning tickets, obtained from the Texas Lottery. See the circled numbers? The left ones show the match that won $2 million. The right one is the number of the pack this ticket came from. The set of digits to the left make up the game number – Millions & Millions was Game 836. The digits to the right of the pack number form the ticket number, indicating the ticket was No 20 in the pack.

So she won Game 836 with the last ticket in pack 80836. (The repetition of 836 is likely just coincidence.)

Simply put, these numbers tell when a ticket was printed among the thousands and thousands in each game, and if there's any predictable pattern to how prizes are distributed, an analysis of pack numbers could reveal that.

Texas isn't worried. It publishes the pack numbers for every grand-prize scratch-off win – information we were unable to find on any other state lottery's website.

Furthermore, in response to right-to-know requests, the Texas Lottery also provided the pack numbers of all 28 of Ginther's instant wins, as well as pack numbers of winners from most of its games with prizes of $1 million or more.

Those numbers were used to look for patterns.

None emerged in Ginther's case, except that she rarely bought tickets from the first 30 percent of the tickets printed. 

Amazingly, however, Ginther wasn't far off from a fifth multimillion-dollar win. Tickets she bought for a game called Ultimate Casino Jackpot had pack numbers essentially placing her within 1 percent of the $7.5 million prize. But the cost of the intervening tickets was more than $125,000, even after allowing for her tax break on gambling losses.

2. Prizes NOT random

By themselves, pack numbers are no help. The trick is to connect them to prizes, or patterns of prizes.

Randomness would rule this out – unless a player had inside help – because true randomness is unpredictable.

In scratch-off games, however, the prize distribution is not truly random. For example, there's zero chance every ticket in a pack will be a loser. Take Joker's Wild, a $5 Texas instant game. There were at least 18 winners of $5 to $20 in each pack of 75 tickets, according to the closing analysis. This promise even has an acronym: GLEPS, for Guaranteed Low-End Prize Structure.

The Texas Lottery even goes so far as to tell gamblers: "There will be no more than 21 winners per pack." That's not randomness. And it's useful information. Once a pack has produced 21 winners, it's time to give up on that pack, for example.

Whether Ginther took advantage of this is unclear, since no evidence was found that she returned any unscratched tickets. Attempts were unsuccessful to contact her or Sun Bae, the owner of Times Market in Bishop, the store where Ginther bought her two biggest scratch-off prizes.

Even more important, prizes are spread throughout the game to guarantee there's no chance all of the biggest prizes will turn up near the beginning. The game would have to shut down early and lose a ton of money.

Indiana has even posted online a consumer-protection document declaring that lotteries try to "ensure the even distribution of winning tickets throughout a game."

Or, as Massachusetts specifies, "an equal number of high level winners must be distributed randomly within specified equal segments of the game."

Basically, the prizes should be fairly consistent among parts of the print run known as "pools."

Yet, there are assurances about prizes being "randomly distributed."

It sure sounds contradictory.

A solution is to shuffle sections separately. If you shuffle three decks of cards together, the locations of any kind of card would be truly random. If you shuffle them separately, you'll have an ace of spades in the first 52 cards, another in the second 52, and a third in the last 52.

That's apparently what happens in scratch-off games.

"Every game is going to touch on the even distribution of prizes in the game," said Joe Bennett, vice president for game development at Scientific Games, which prints scratch-off tickets in every state with a lottery except for Michigan. "There are rules that we program into the software that says, one winner's going to be in the first 5 million, one in the second 5 million."

It's easy to confirm with a visit to www.txlottery.com. Texas posts timely updates of the pack numbers of grand prize winners, and those numbers correspond to the order in which tickets were printed.

Look at the pack numbers for the first six $2.5 million winners in Texas' $500 Million Frenzy: 123258, 234176, 417131, 536684, 662186 and 746257. Each roughly fits into a 10-percent slice of the game, which has ten $2.5 million winners. (The actual numbering is rarely exact, since extra tickets are budgeted into each print run, to allow for testing and the removal of packs rejected because of defects or prize-distribution reasons.)

See where this is going? Figure out yet how players can take advantage?

It ties in with the third key element, the process of elimination.

3. Process of elimination

As sales of scratch-offs continue, the number of tickets left, naturally, goes down. That means the odds of finding a big winner go up — until one of them disappears.

In Part Two of this series, we pointed out how, for example, there were 3.6 million tickets in $140,000,000 Extreme Payout, and how Ginther bought her $10 million winner when two of the three big winners were remaining, along with about 45 percent of the tickets.

In a truly random game, that's two shots out of about 1.6 million tickets, or 1 in 800,000 tickets. In reality, the odds were half as long. Forget the last third of the game. The portion of the game she was playing had one winner left in 400,000 tickets.

Players can look for this information online in many states. In the ideal setup, a single chart lists, for every prize level, how many tickets were printed, and either how many winners have been found, or how many winners are left. This information can help estimate the percentage of tickets sold, and whether the top prize percentage is relatively high.

Washington and Connecticut, for example, have one list with all this information for all games. California, Virginia, Missouri, North Carolina and Arkansas have some of the most helpful game pages. Other states have all the information, but it's in separate places. Pennsylvania, for example, has a list of all games' remaining prizes, but players have to go to the "complete game rules" for each game to find the list of prizes printed. Some states, like New Jersey, give only the top remaining prizes.

Note that the odds are still likely to be quite lousy.

That said, let's look at a high-priced Texas game with a huge prize that should have already been found.

$7,500,000 Fortune has 3.8 million tickets with 20 tickets in a pack. That's 190,000 packs per game. With three top prizes, the expectation is that each third of the print run, with about 63,000 packs, should produce one of the winners.

Now find the numbers for the two winners found so far. Go the game's main page, then look at the top of the column under "remaining prizes." See how the "2" for the number of remaining top prizes is colored, indicating a link? Click on that to find details about the winners.

The two winning pack numbers so far: 84139 and 157033.

Where's the one for the first third of the game, the first 63,000 packs? Even allowing a 10 percent variation (which, analysis shows, is a good rule of thumb), the first big prize should have appeared in the first 70,000 packs. Pack 84139 is 20 percent too high.

Timing also supports the theory. Almost a full year elapsed before either top prize was claimed, and in Texas tickets are generally delivered with the lowest pack numbers first.

That ties in with the most intriguing part: Those 70,000 packs have been almost completely picked over.

Almost every pack with a lower number shipped to retailers had been activated as of early June, according to data obtained through a right-to-know request submitted to the Texas Lottery.

But 331 packs with numbers under 75,000 had yet to be "activated," or officially logged into the system as ready to be sold.

If the winner is in one of those 331 packs, the odds have improved tremendously – to 1 in 6,620 tickets instead of about 1 in 1.27 million.

Calm down, take a deep breath.

Even if this theory is correct, it might be impossible to find the missing winner. The winning ticket might have already been bought, and tossed in a drawer, forgotten. Or it might have been misread and trashed. Complaints are not uncommon about how confusing scratch-offs can be to read. Weirdly, for example, two of Ginther's tickets had a phony symbol for the top prize, as well as the real one. (link to image?)   

Tickets can also get lost, stolen, or destroyed by flood or fire. These things happen when millions of tickets are scattered around a state. 

The theory could even be right without the winning pack number making the list. The retailer might have opened it and still have tickets left. 

And, of course, the theory might be wrong, since lotteries never share all their secrets.

Perhaps most worrisome of all is that few high-priced instant games in Texas ever produce all of the possible winners. The most likely reason is that Texas tends to close games when about 85 percent of tickets have been sold. A winner could land in the last 15 percent and never get shipped. No system exists to verify that every winner was actually printed and shipped in the first place, because, for security reasons, no human is allowed to know the whereabouts of any winner.

Just for amusement and treasure-hunting gamblers' purposes, here is the list of unactivated packs of tickets with pack numbers below 75,000 for $7,500,000 Fortune, along with the names and locations of the retailers last in possession of them.

Will there be a new member of the Joan Ginther club?

News story photo(Click to display full-size in gallery)

Philly.com

We'd love to see your comments here!  Register for a FREE membership — it takes just a few moments — and you'll be able to post comments here and on any of our forums. If you're already a member, you can Log In to post a comment.

14 comments. Last comment 3 months ago by Nikkicute.
Page 1 of 1
mypiemaster's avatar - peace
He who dies with the most toys WINS!!!.

United States
Member #141039
April 2, 2013
722 Posts
Offline
Posted: July 3, 2014, 8:23 am - IP Logged

Man, I almost had a headache, reading through all this stuff, and it did not enhance my chances of winning one bit.

US FlagHAPPY 4TH OF JULY IN ADVANCE TO ALL US Flag

Seekand ye shall find -Matt. 7:7 ...Ask and ye shall receive -John 16:24 ...Give and it shall be given unto you -Luke 6:38 ...Be careful what you ask for!!! -Mypiemaster 1:1

Having Money Solves Problems That Not Having Money Creates Yes Nod ****John Carlton****

    Avatar
    New Member
    Richmond Texas
    United States
    Member #81193
    October 13, 2009
    13 Posts
    Offline
    Posted: July 3, 2014, 9:11 am - IP Logged

    I have bought several of those $50 tickets and lost on all. I burned all my lottery tickets at the of each year (they get my wood fire going nicely in my fire place) now this info have me thinking could I have misread one?

    Will be pondering that question while I watch my hubby BARBQ tomorrow. Happy 4th!!!Banana

      haymaker's avatar - Lottery-012.jpg
      egg harbor twp.south jersey shore
      United States
      Member #112972
      June 29, 2011
      3163 Posts
      Offline
      Posted: July 3, 2014, 9:46 am - IP Logged

      I have bought several of those $50 tickets and lost on all. I burned all my lottery tickets at the of each year (they get my wood fire going nicely in my fire place) now this info have me thinking could I have misread one?

      Will be pondering that question while I watch my hubby BARBQ tomorrow. Happy 4th!!!Banana

      Try not to think about it and just look forward.

      Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds    -- Charles Mackay  LL.D.

        fwlawrence's avatar - Yavill
        Austin
        United States
        Member #9378
        December 6, 2004
        195 Posts
        Offline
        Posted: July 3, 2014, 9:49 am - IP Logged

        There is also one Casino Action ticket left.

          dallascowboyfan's avatar - tiana the-princess-and-the-frog.jpg
          Oklahoma
          United States
          Member #82391
          November 12, 2009
          5412 Posts
          Offline
          Posted: July 3, 2014, 10:29 am - IP Logged

          Man, I almost had a headache, reading through all this stuff, and it did not enhance my chances of winning one bit.

          US FlagHAPPY 4TH OF JULY IN ADVANCE TO ALL US Flag

          LOL same here What?

          I Love Pink & Green 1908

            bobby623's avatar - abstract
            San Angelo, Texas
            United States
            Member #1097
            January 31, 2003
            1107 Posts
            Offline
            Posted: July 3, 2014, 10:44 am - IP Logged

            It takes money to make money!

            What a waste of news space!
            A ton of free advertisement for the Texas lottery!
            I imagine that IF I were to win a few million bucks, I'd have a lot of free time and buckets of money to spend.
            I think I might use some of that time to do some research and try to win another few millions.
            I'd probably drive around town and buy up all the expensive tickets. I'd use some of my free time
            to satisfy my itch to scratch, tickets of course.
            I might even take a tour of surrounding communities and buy all the $20 and $50 tickets I could find.
            Maybe, just maybe, there might be another big winner in the piles of tickets that need 'scratching'.
            If not, well, I'd expand my search. I got many buckets of cash to spend, and a craving to scratch.
            It's really hard to spend a million bucks!
            I would imagine I would eventually get tired of being surrounded by lottery tickets, and piles of cash money.
            Of course, if I were to win another few million, I could be scratching for the rest of my life.
            The odds suggest that I would probably go broke and be back where I started - spending a few
            bucks with hope of winning a prize of any denomination.
            What a sad story!

              green sandals's avatar - bxvg
              Costa Mesa
              United States
              Member #150641
              December 27, 2013
              157 Posts
              Offline
              Posted: July 3, 2014, 11:51 am - IP Logged

              What's most interesting to me about this article is the list of retailers having packs in $7,500,000 Fortune.  It lists both the

              pack number and the retailers that have it.  http://media.philly.com/documents/Fortune+LIST+FINAL.pdf

              Does anyone know if that's standard information available under the public records act?

                cgraphix1's avatar - money bag_with_dollar
                New Member
                chicago
                United States
                Member #109108
                April 6, 2011
                14 Posts
                Offline
                Posted: July 3, 2014, 12:18 pm - IP Logged

                Not that it matters, but the Illinois Lottery just pulled the "Win For Life" games. They ran for a few years without ever producing a top prize winner... There were 3 top prizes ($5,000 a Week for Life), and they never sold a single one. 

                I played it every so often, but once I seen that a winner had never been produced, and that they were stopping the game. Well, I just felt completely ripped off and scammed... My logic was, the longer it went without a winner, the better my chances were to win a top prize. Than the game just went away. No one was ever paid.

                The game was just replaced with a new "Win $10,000 a Week for 20 Years" Its been out for 20 weeks now, and still has 3 top prizes. Doubting they will ever release any of them either. 

                Sorry, just my rant for the day.

                ~BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT TO BEAT THE ODDS, BE SURE YOU COULD SURVIVE THE ODDS BEATING YOU~

                ~CAVEAT EMPTOR~

                  Kee12's avatar - Lottery-012.jpg
                  I rep CA
                  Senegal
                  Member #144817
                  July 17, 2013
                  68 Posts
                  Offline
                  Posted: July 3, 2014, 3:28 pm - IP Logged

                  Not that it matters, but the Illinois Lottery just pulled the "Win For Life" games. They ran for a few years without ever producing a top prize winner... There were 3 top prizes ($5,000 a Week for Life), and they never sold a single one. 

                  I played it every so often, but once I seen that a winner had never been produced, and that they were stopping the game. Well, I just felt completely ripped off and scammed... My logic was, the longer it went without a winner, the better my chances were to win a top prize. Than the game just went away. No one was ever paid.

                  The game was just replaced with a new "Win $10,000 a Week for 20 Years" Its been out for 20 weeks now, and still has 3 top prizes. Doubting they will ever release any of them either. 

                  Sorry, just my rant for the day.

                  I felt the same way with AfricanMillions here. It started in June, 2013. Initially, after 12 weeks of drawing, no one won the jackpot, and the prize amount went to second tier winners from the various participating countries. After that, there was one jackpot winner from Ivory Coast in the Dec. 7th, 2013 drawing. I started playing the game in December 21, 2013.  From December 21st to April 12th, 2014, no one won the jackpot (From 200,000,000 to 238,000,000 FCFA) and the game ended suddenly.


                  What happened? Firstly: they stopped updating their facebook page; posting results and next jackpot amount. Secondly: after April 2nd drawing, the next two drawings were to be 5th & 9th respectively. But after buying my ticket the following day, I was surprised to see 12th April as the next draw date instead of 5th April. I quickly ran back to the clerk to ask why two drawings would be skipped, she had no idea why and there was no written notice on their website indicating the reasons. After that I said to myself, I'm going to stop playing this game.

                  Well, after April 12th draw, no one heard from them again. Their website is no longer functional as of now.  No won the jackpot, they got away with the money without paying nobody. I couldn't cash one of my three winnings (Small amount, though.) from the game till date, because when I'd go to the ticket point of sales, their network were always down.

                  I'd be a fool to surrender when I know I can be a contender...I C U when U get there - Coolio

                    sweetie7398's avatar - flower2
                    South Carolina
                    United States
                    Member #22702
                    September 30, 2005
                    858 Posts
                    Online
                    Posted: July 5, 2014, 10:01 am - IP Logged

                    Man, I almost had a headache, reading through all this stuff, and it did not enhance my chances of winning one bit.

                    US FlagHAPPY 4TH OF JULY IN ADVANCE TO ALL US Flag

                    That was a long reading.

                    Life, love, family Love

                      Avatar
                      frontenac, kansas
                      United States
                      Member #67724
                      December 3, 2008
                      117 Posts
                      Offline
                      Posted: July 6, 2014, 2:16 pm - IP Logged

                      I believe in luck but it sure makes it hard to swallow hitting 3 of those big wins ( at the same store in a town with the population around 4,000 people) and by the same person over a certain course of time. 

                      I always was curious as to how they placed winners and especially big winners thru out the book of tickets....with man being involved i suppose some back door shenigans could take place.  I would like to think not but with a story like this sure makes one wonder.

                        Get paid's avatar - Lottery-062.jpg
                        texas
                        United States
                        Member #152331
                        February 11, 2014
                        51 Posts
                        Offline
                        Posted: July 7, 2014, 12:26 pm - IP Logged

                        Wow,lots of info.Being a resident of texas I probaly won,t buy a fifty dollar lottery ticket.I still say in a game with astronomical odds,Its just the luck of the draw.

                          Avatar

                          United States
                          Member #94618
                          July 24, 2010
                          4628 Posts
                          Offline
                          Posted: July 7, 2014, 7:57 pm - IP Logged

                          WOW! These 3 articles are VERY well researched and have a TON of info. 

                            Nikkicute's avatar - nnjx1k
                            RIGHT HERE!!
                            United States
                            Member #123295
                            February 17, 2012
                            2224 Posts
                            Offline
                            Posted: July 11, 2014, 11:07 am - IP Logged

                            WOW! These 3 articles are VERY well researched and have a TON of info. 

                            Yes and now the author requested the stories be removed!!!

                            I was just about to put all three articles on my Favorites list!!! boooo!!!No Nod