Repeat lottery winners in Wisconsin: coincidence or fraud?

To hear lottery officials in Wisconsin tell it, it’s a state of significant coincidence.

Like the woman in Milwaukee who has hit for nearly $500,000 in the 65 times she’s bought more than $600 worth of lottery tickets. Or the man in Cuddahy who has won 33 times for almost $80,000. Or the 11 people who have cashed 20 or more winning tickets of at least $600.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reports that at least 3 of 13 players who’ve won the lottery 20 or more times work at or had ties to convenience stores, which get bonuses if they sell winning tickets.

What’s going on. Maybe this, the Center says:

  • Store owners or employees can “micro scratch” tickets with small blades, revealing numbers that show whether the card is a winner. This method stacks the deck against people buying from the store, as the retailer sells only losing tickets. In Tampa, Florida, authorities arrested a store employee in January 2017 for “micro scratching” tickets. He cashed at least seven tickets worth $1,000 each. Adler said the lottery is investigating a retailer suspected of “micro scratching” tickets in Wisconsin.
  • In some cases, store owners or employees can steal tickets from customers who return to confirm their wins. In 2013, an Eau Claire, Wisconsin, man cashed 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. Tipton installed software to generate specific winning numbers that he passed along to associates. In 2017, Tipton was sentenced up to 25 years in prison; he still owes the Wisconsin Lottery $406,600 in restitution. His co-conspirator, Robert Rhodes, has already paid the state lottery $310,000, with $99,600 more still uncollected.
  • But maybe it is coincidence combined with a better understanding of odds. One University of Wisconsin expert on lottery odds says buying a lot of lottery tickets when payouts are comparatively low could explain the multiple wins.

    “I’m a lucky guy. It’s the same thing in the casino,” says Uri Marichuck, who won $31,000 on 25 tickets over the past several years. He owns a liquor store.

    The head of Wisconsin’s lottery division said the agency monitors repeat winners but wouldn’t disclose whether there are any current investigations underway.

    “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,’ ” University of California-Berkeley statistics professor Philip B. Stark said.