Palm Beach News

Authorities Seize Lotto Equipment After Post Exposes Flaw in System

The Florida Lottery has been very, very good to about 200 people. Suspiciously good.

Those 200 have "won" more than 30 times each, according to a Palm Beach Post investigation that rolled out this week.

But reporters found that the most winningest gamblers were often store clerks.

The Post has put together some pretty sweet infographics detailing who won, where they did it, and how often they cashed in. We won't steal their thunder: you can check out their investigation here.

The Post looked at data from ten years of lottery winners, picked out the most frequent winners, and asked Skip Garibaldi, a professor at Emory University, to look at the odds of winning each game and how much each game cost to play. He found that to even have a 1-in-20-trillion chance of winning so often, nearly all the winners would have to have spent more than they won. The winningest player, Louis Tillman Johnson of Pompano Beach, won $719,000 in 252 wins over 196 dates. When the Post reached him, he said he's never won and that someone may be using his name to commit fraud -- but the IRS is chasing him for taxes on the winnings.

Investigators looked at the vendors as well as the winners, and today raided Pompamo beach store Akel Market. After concluding that the store's lottery payouts were well beyond what's statistically possible, investigators seized the store's equipment.

David Bishop, Deputy Secretary of the Lotto tells us there will be an op-ed in tomorrow's Palm Beach Post about the changes the Lotto will be making as a result of the investigation, but tells us that they will be focusing on real-time tracking of winners.

He also notes that the timing of the equipment seizure and the Post article is a coincidence and that since 2009, Lotto officials have arrested 19 people for defrauding the system. In the past, he says, the Lotto didn't publicize its undercover sting operations. Going forward, they'll be more aggressive and transparent in regards to their efforts at curtailing cheaters.

So now for the most interesting question: Exactly how have clerks been getting away with all this loot?

"Perhaps the most prominent example is the case where clerks or retailers validate tickets and say they're not a winner and then cash the tickets for themselves," Bishop explains. "But of course anytime money is involved in anything, people are going to try and find a way to defraud others."

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.