Lottery players are twice as likely to die in a car crash on the way to the store to get their tickets than to win the big jackpot, says the Toronto statistician who has crunched the numbers of the Ontario lottery.
Jeffrey Rosenthal said the odds in Atlantic Canada seem to be stacked even higher against ticket holders, in light of news that retailers have won 10 times more than statistically probable over a six-year period.
"If you buy it and you are not careful, even if you do defy the odds and win a big jackpot, you might not manage to collect it," Mr. Rosenthal, the author of Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, said in an interview Saturday.
Mr. Rosenthal was part of the CBC fifth estate's look at the Ontario lottery. He determined retailers in that province should have won about 57 times in the period examined by the CBC, rather than the nearly 200 who actually did.
He said the odds of Ontario retailers winning the lottery so many times was "about one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion."
On Friday, the Atlantic Lottery Corp. announced a forensic team had found unethical and suspicious dealings between some retailers and ticket buyers in the region.
The study by KPMG Forensic Inc. found retailers claimed 85 winning tickets, each worth at least $25,000. The total amount collected was $14 million, with the largest prize of $4.5 million picked up by a retailer in Nova Scotia. The corporation has turned all the files over to police for an investigation.
Larry Doherty, a corporation vice-president, told reporters Friday the agency has asked police to look at two cases in which customers claim they are owed $100,000 apiece in winnings claimed by retailers.
Mr. Rosenthal said he sees similarities between the lottery questions in Ontario and those in this region.
"Retailers (in Atlantic Canada) are winning significantly more than they could be expected to win by chance alone," he said. "Of course it's always possible to get a little bit lucky and win a little bit more often than you should, but not this much more. It does indicate to me that the retailers are winning much more than they should be and that something is up."
Mr. Rosenthal said that during his examination of the Ontario lottery he was surprised to learn just how many people didn't check their numbers before they handed them to the retailers.
He said players should always sign the back of the ticket and check their own numbers.
"It could be worth millions and rather than just plunking it down on the counter at a convenience store and hoping you get your due, it's much better to check it yourself," the University of Toronto professor said.
Ontario's Bob Edmonds contested a ticket he bought in 2001 at a Coboconk store. The 81-year-old was given a free ticket by the store owner, but said he heard the machine ring twice, indicating a payout. He later read a newspaper report that said the store owner had won.
The store owners subsequently paid Mr. Edmonds $150,000 but did not admit any wrongdoing. Mr. Edmonds also reached a confidential settlement with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. in 2005.
The Atlantic Lottery Corp. has made several proposals to make the lottery more secure, such as requiring ticket winners to sign their tickets, banning retailers from throwing away winning tickets after payments are made and investigating all wins by retailers.