Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Those who know, know and win big

There's a report being broadcast tonight on the CBC that suggests that all is not well with our system of lotteries and games in Canada. It's not just the accusations that lottery retailers have stolen winning tickets from their customers; but also that the rate in which they've won and the amounts far exceed expectations. 200 times over 7 years, with an average payoff of $500,000? Doesn't that seem just a little out of whack?

I'm not expecting those who sell tickets to be automatically disqualified. That's totally unreasonable -- and with tobacco sales continuing to decline and restrictions being placed on where and when cigarettes can be sold becoming tougher, retailers do need other sources of revenue, and lotteries are a necessary evil. But the problem is that those on the inside can, under certain circumstances, rig the game.

The most famous example was about 25 years ago, in the Pennsylvania version of Pick 3. The guy in charge of the game knew the balls were hollow, so before the game one night, he injected all the balls -- except 4 and 6 -- with liquid, knowing that would weigh them down. The draw was held that night, and sure enough the number 6-6-6 came up. He got caught and spent a year in a half in jail for fraud, but still was able to collect his money -- a million and a half -- when it was all over. Seems he got the huge payoff because a) the Keystone State is very religious and no one else dared to play the number of the Antichrist; and b) there were technically no rules that said he couldn't do what he did.

Maybe it's me, but the security measures that are supposed to be in place just don't make sense. Anyone cashing in a winning ticket over a certain amound should be able to tell where and when they bought the ticket. That's usually enough to catch most of the cheaters -- unless the bar code tells exactly that and the retailer knows how to read it. Just like you can find out a lot about a person, just by checking the nine digits of his or her Social Insurance Number.

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