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Are repeat Wisconsin Lottery winners playing fair?

Mar 25, 2018, 10:02 am

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Since 2009, Khalil Audi of Cudahy has cashed in lottery tickets 33 times to the tune of about $80,000.

His $10,000 win from Badger Cash Blowout? A one-in-72,000 chance. When he bought a $30 Super Millions scratch-off ticket, he had a one-in-200,000 shot of winning $5,000 — the same odds as giving birth to conjoined twins.

But that ticket was also a winner.

Audi's success is surprising, but he is not the luckiest person in Wisconsin.

According to Wisconsin Lottery data obtained by Gaming the Lottery, an international investigation into the global lottery industry, the state's most frequent winner was Annie Mason of Milwaukee. Mason bought tickets worth $600 or more 65 times since 2000, for total winnings of $466,780. She hung up twice when contacted by a reporter.

In that same time, 11 people have cashed 20 or more winning tickets of at least $600, earning prizes totaling $100,000 or more each.

Reached at work — the store where he has scored nearly all of his lottery wins — Audi declined to comment.

Thousands of people throughout the state play a variety of games including scratch-off games and traditional lotteries, such as Powerball, which involve guessing numbers that will appear in daily or biweekly drawings. The lottery has provided more than $4 billion in property tax relief and almost $8 billion in prizes since it was launched in 1988.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found that at least three of the top 13 players who have won 20 times or more in recent years have close ties to the retailers selling them the winning tickets — including Audi, who works at Charlie's Liquor & Tobacco Mart, home to 30 of his 33 wins.

Wisconsin has no laws barring lottery retailers or their employees from buying or cashing in lottery tickets at their own stores — a gap in regulation that could open the state's $600-million-a-year lottery system to fraud.

Canada learned that lesson in 2006 when provincial lotteries in Ontario and British Columbia were rocked by scandals uncovered in media reports involving store owners and clerks.

In the United States, news reports from Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts and other states have revealed suspicious clusters of frequent winners, in some cases owners or clerks at stores that sell lottery tickets.

Resistance to reform

A 2009 Iowa Ombudsman report recommended that Iowa's lottery consider banning retail employees from playing the lottery at stores where they work to ensure the games' integrity. The ombudsman's office investigates citizen complaints about state government.

The Iowa review found several store owners and their employees among those exhibiting against-the-odds luck. One clerk had claimed eight prizes for a total of $266,000 in less than one year's time at the store where he worked, the ombudsman said.

But Iowa did not adopt the ombudsman's recommendation, according to a  2017 investigation. Lottery officials told the newspaper that such a requirement would be unworkable and add unnecessary government bureaucracy. Employees of lottery retailers continue to rake in big winnings, including one who cashed in $28,000 in stolen tickets.

Wisconsin not exempt from lottery cheating

In Wisconsin, retailers get bonuses of up to $100,000 when they sell winning tickets, providing further monetary incentive to bend the system in their favor, one expert said.

When presented with a list of 20 of Wisconsin's most frequent lottery winners, Jean Adler, deputy administer of the Wisconsin Lottery, said all have been reviewed and continue to be monitored "to watch for additional wins that might suggest further investigation." Only one of the 20 has been the subject of a completed investigation and he was cleared in 2005.

In addition, a 2010 sting operation involving hundreds of retailers in Wisconsin found five clerks took winning tickets, each worth $5,000, from law enforcement officers posing as customers. Two thought the tickets actually were losers and threw them away, Adler said. The other three took the tickets knowing they were winners. Two cashed them in and were later prosecuted, she said.

Adler declined to describe the specific mechanisms the state agency uses to guard against retailers or others gaming the system, saying it could tip off fraudsters about how to cheat. She said there has been just one completed investigation into lottery fraud since 2012. It involved the theft of a winning ticket by a store clerk in 2013.

There are several ways people have cheated lotteries:

  • Store owners or employees can "micro-scratch" tickets with small blades, revealing whether the card is a winner. This method stacks the deck against people buying from the store, as the retailer sells only losing tickets. Adler said the lottery is investigating a retailer suspected of micro-scratching tickets in Wisconsin.
  • Store owners or employees can steal tickets from customers who return to confirm their wins. In 2013, an Eau Claire man cashed in a $10,000 winning ticket that a lottery store clerk had stolen from an elderly customer.
  • Eddie Tipton, a computer programmer for the Multi-State Lottery Association, rigged drawings in four states, including Wisconsin, winning $2.2 million over six years. In 2017, Tipton was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison, although he could be paroled after three or four.

What are the odds?

Officials from the Wisconsin Lottery say frequent winning is not necessarily evidence of wrongdoing. People who win a lot are often big-time players.

Laura Albert, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and expert on lottery odds, agreed.

"There are a couple of different ways to win the lottery frequently. Some of them are fraudulent and some of them are not fraudulent — they're just professional lottery players," Albert said.

Wisconsin Lottery data do not show how often people play the lottery, how much each person spends or what games they play. That makes it impossible to calculate exactly what odds these frequent winners are beating — and difficult to figure out if they are cheating.

Philip B. Stark is a professor of statistics at the University of California-Berkeley who has studied lottery odds for years. He has devised a method to estimate the minimum amount of money these winners would need to spend on the lottery to have a one-in-10 million chance of winning. To put those odds in perspective, each year Americans have a roughly one in a million chance of getting struck by lightning.

"It's really trying to be careful, and not accuse anybody of anything where there was even a slim chance of where they might have just done this through just honest play," Stark said.

Stark said most of Wisconsin's frequent winners do not appear to be particularly suspicious, based on his analysis. But some stand out.

In the case of Audi, Stark said he would have to have spent $191,697 over eight years, or about $66 a day, to have a one-in-10 million chance of winning his $78,300 in prizes.

Stark said people with connections to the places where they bought their winning tickets raise questions. One lucky store employee is Steven Kazik. He has claimed 21 winning tickets for $128,417, with at least 20 wins coming at Oklahoma Liquor in Milwaukee, where he has worked. The center was unable to reach Kazik, who lives in Oak Creek, for comment.

Charanjit Singh owned gas stations in Neenah and Appleton, Wisconsin, where he won 21 times for nearly $90,000. Singh could not be reached for comment either.

Stark also found unlikely odds for one frequent winner, Jeffrey Hintz, whose extreme luck also drew the attention of Wisconsin Lottery officials.

By Stark's calculations, Hintz would have had to have spent nearly $1.1 million for the one-in-10-million chance of winning 37 times since 2003 for a total of $117,300. But the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, which administers the lottery, investigated — and cleared — Hintz more than a decade ago.

In 2005, Hintz, of Bonduel, won $1,000 five weeks in a row from the Wisconsin Lottery's Super 2nd Chance game, in which players send in envelopes with $5 worth of losing tickets. Hintz and his wife, Lisa, have won that game at least 35 times since 2000.

Following Hintz's 2005 lucky streak, officials launched an investigation to determine if his winnings were legitimate. According to an internal review from the Department of Revenue, Hintz won the games fairly by sending in at least 500 envelopes a week containing $2,500 in losing tickets, reducing his odds to as little as one-in-seven.

Lack of 'meaningful enforcement'

Adler — the Wisconsin Lottery deputy administrator — said over the past three fiscal years, the lottery has received less than $2,000 in restitution, all for stolen lottery tickets that were cashed in. That is a tiny fraction of the payout, which totaled $363 million in fiscal year 2017 alone.

Stark said based on the lack of investigations, prosecutions and restitution — along with the "strong evidence of fraud" he detected among some of Wisconsin's frequent winners — "there doesn't seem to be meaningful enforcement."

Mirza Akhtar's store, the Food Pantry Citgo in Stoughton, has been host to a fair share of big winnings over the years, including a $40.1 million jackpot that earned his store the maximum $100,000 commission. The wall around the checkout is lined with pictures of past winners.

A name that pops up at Akhtar's store around a dozen times: Andrew Ylvisaker, with a lot of $1,000 prizes and one for $100,000. Across town, he also won $1 million at a Kwik Trip gas station.

Ylvisaker has won 28 times for a total of just over $1.1 million since 2007, which makes him one of the state's most prolific winners. Akhtar said Ylvisaker does not work at his store but comes in two or three times a week and usually spends roughly $160 on tickets each time — more if he is winning. The center was unable to reach Ylvisaker for comment.

There is no evidence that any of the winnings at Akhtar's store were the result of wrongdoing.

Stark said that, in any case, lottery officials tend not to focus much on fraud because it generally does not affect revenue.

"In some cases there is enforcement, and in some cases there is not. What I find to be especially of concern is that the officials in charge of lotteries are just so quick to write this stuff off to, 'Oh, that's the thing about the lottery, people tend to get lucky,' " Stark said.

"Yeah — but not that lucky."

Wisconsin Gazette

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20 comments. Last comment 2 years ago by LottoFanBoy.
Page 1 of 2
Raven62's avatar - binary
25
New Jersey
United States
Member #17842
June 28, 2005
126132 Posts
Online
Posted: March 25, 2018, 10:35 am - IP Logged

The more you Play: The more you Win!

A mind once stretched by a new idea never returns to its original dimensions!

Catch-22: A dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.

Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges: When the republic is at its most corrupt the laws are most numerous.

    Avatar

    Zimbabwe
    Member #21
    December 7, 2001
    4530 Posts
    Offline
    Posted: March 25, 2018, 10:36 am - IP Logged

    Wisconsin can fix this problem by making it possible for winners to claim anonymously.

    Keep that data away from prying reporter's eyes.

    How dare they find out someone is winning more often than everyone else.

    .

      Slick Nick's avatar - RYc5Gcw
      Rochester
      United States
      Member #103278
      January 1, 2011
      951 Posts
      Offline
      Posted: March 25, 2018, 10:44 am - IP Logged

      If they're playing crookedly, they'll be aught in the end and pay the price. As far as the phone calls,, if you don't want to answer the phone, simply ignore the call, or turn it off.

      Money is a terrible master, but a great servant...Smile

        rcbbuckeye's avatar - Lottery-062.jpg
        Texas
        United States
        Member #55887
        October 23, 2007
        10087 Posts
        Offline
        Posted: March 25, 2018, 10:56 am - IP Logged

        If they're playing crookedly, they'll be aught in the end and pay the price. As far as the phone calls,, if you don't want to answer the phone, simply ignore the call, or turn it off.

        I Agree!

        If I don't recognize the number I don't answer.

        CAN'T WIN IF YOU'RE NOT IN

        A DOLLAR AND A DREAM (OR $2)

          Avatar

          Zimbabwe
          Member #21
          December 7, 2001
          4530 Posts
          Offline
          Posted: March 25, 2018, 11:04 am - IP Logged

          Someone in Wisconsin needs to get the Claim Anonymously campaign going and stop this kind of thing from happening.

          .

            CDanaT's avatar - Nolz june15.jpg
            Central TN
            United States
            Member #121189
            January 4, 2012
            4604 Posts
            Offline
            Posted: March 25, 2018, 11:06 am - IP Logged

            I Agree!

            If I don't recognize the number I don't answer.

            Amen to that

            Integrity: There is just no substitute.

              Avatar

              Zimbabwe
              Member #21
              December 7, 2001
              4530 Posts
              Offline
              Posted: March 25, 2018, 12:22 pm - IP Logged

              #ClaimAnonymousWILotteryNow

              coming soon

              because suspects have rights, too

              .

                Avatar
                Chasing $ Millions.
                White Shores- California
                United States
                Member #136473
                December 12, 2012
                6212 Posts
                Offline
                Posted: March 25, 2018, 12:24 pm - IP Logged

                Some folks are just born lucky. Richard Lustig has won 7 times, l doubt he has ever been under investigation. The guy jumps at the first opportunity to get on TV to give advice & hawk his brochure.Just leave those cheeseheads alone, l say!

                 * Voice of Reason *   

                 

                People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it- George Bernard Shaw.

                  Avatar
                  Chasing $ Millions.
                  White Shores- California
                  United States
                  Member #136473
                  December 12, 2012
                  6212 Posts
                  Offline
                  Posted: March 25, 2018, 12:32 pm - IP Logged

                  #ClaimAnonymousWILotteryNow

                  coming soon

                  because suspects have rights, too

                  LOL..Suspects have rights too- brilliant!

                   * Voice of Reason *   

                   

                  People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it- George Bernard Shaw.

                    music*'s avatar - DiscoBallGlowing
                    Fresno, California
                    United States
                    Member #157851
                    August 2, 2014
                    3866 Posts
                    Offline
                    Posted: March 25, 2018, 12:39 pm - IP Logged

                    Players will soon quit playing except for MM & PB. 

                    When will COVID-19 be finished?  A vaccine may protect all of us.

                      Avatar

                      United States
                      Member #164719
                      March 12, 2015
                      1300 Posts
                      Offline
                      Posted: March 25, 2018, 12:42 pm - IP Logged

                      I guess it is how you define fair. Are other players being deprived of winning? No. Is the state being deprived of grabbing the cash for unpaid debts? Yes. But I dont care about the state. They certainly dont give a <snip> about me.   

                      This post has been automatically changed by the Lottery Post computer system to remove inappropriate content and/or spam.

                        stah's avatar - happy
                        SD
                        United States
                        Member #5084
                        June 16, 2004
                        40 Posts
                        Offline
                        Posted: March 25, 2018, 12:56 pm - IP Logged

                        Having worked behind the counter of a place that sold scratch tickets, it didn't take long to figure out that certain numbered tickets could be winning tickets. I was never a big scratch off player but did see the methodology the lottery applied. Not too difficult. And yeah, they need to let winners have their privacy.

                          Avatar
                          Jacksonville
                          United States
                          Member #153801
                          March 26, 2014
                          770 Posts
                          Offline
                          Posted: March 25, 2018, 5:28 pm - IP Logged

                          "When he bought a $30 Super Millions scratch-off ticket, he had a one-in-200,000 shot of winning $5,000."

                          1 in 200,000 chance of winning $5,000 on a $30 scratch-off ticket!  Sounds like the Wisconsin Lottery is not playing fair. 

                            Avatar
                            Chasing $ Millions.
                            White Shores- California
                            United States
                            Member #136473
                            December 12, 2012
                            6212 Posts
                            Offline
                            Posted: March 25, 2018, 10:23 pm - IP Logged

                            Bottom Line: When you purchase a lottery ticket or a scratcher- you “ hoping” to win. These folks fulfilled their dreams, what’s so wrong with that? Since when is not returning a call or hanging up,a crime?

                             * Voice of Reason *   

                             

                            People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it- George Bernard Shaw.