Thirteen seems to be the lucky number in the Ohio lottery. That’s how many people state lottery investigators are “looking into” for winning the lottery too often. Each of the top 13 winners in Ohio have won at least 100 prizes worth $600 or greater since the lottery was established in 1973.
You read that right. Each of those people has each won at least 100 prizes of $600 or more. The Dayton Daily News launched an investigation this year and posted its findings on September 12th after digging into state lottery records. What they found was both fascinating and concerning.
How is this even possible?
The odds are supposed to be stacked against you. Is it possible these people have “hacked” the system and found some sort of pattern or winning method? According to the newspaper, the explanation is probably something less impressive.
There are a few possibilities that don’t involve psychic powers. One is the possibility of “discounting.” Discounting is an arrangement in which someone wins a lottery ticket but doesn’t want the state to deduct outstanding child support or other debts from the winnings. So, the person will sell his or her ticket to someone else at a discount.
Convenience store owners have been caught participating in discounting in the past. If word gets around that a certain store owner is willing to buy winning tickets, it’s conceivable that the store owner would redeem a higher-than-expected number of winners. He isn’t extremely lucky or even all that smart; he’s simply helping people skip out on past debts.
Another possibility is equally disturbing. Some people may actually purchase that many tickets. Someone who spends upwards of $50 a day on tickets is bound to get more than a few winning tickets. This person also isn’t gifted or especially smart; he’s simply addicted to playing the lottery. It does happen.
A third possibility is a matter of large numbers. With so many people playing the lottery regularly over its lifetime, there are bound to be a few statistical outliers who do win more than expected. After all, true randomness doesn’t always look random in practice.
Here’s where it gets weird
If the explanations were that simple, this story wouldn’t be that fun. Good news: it’s not that simple. As reported in the Dayton Daily, one of the winners achieved more than 200 wins of $600 or more playing Pick 4 for about $820,000 in winnings. In 165 of those wins, he got a perfect match on his Pick 4 tickets.
The odds against hitting a perfect Pick 4 are estimated at about 10,000 to 1. He’s done it 165 times in the past six years. At 10,000:1 odds, he would have had to purchase 1,650,000 tickets to have a realistic chance at that many wins. That works out to about 753 tickets per day or 31 tickets per hour for six straight years non-stop.
The newspaper couldn’t figure out how many tickets he’s actually played and it didn’t release the result of the investigation. So far, everyone they’ve investigated has checked out. Do these people know something we don’t know or are they involved in some kind of scam operation? Nobody knows.
You could always ask the lady who won four different prizes worth $1 million or more what she thinks. She has won $5.4 million, $2 million, $3 million and $10 million all from the Texas state lottery over the years. Oh, she also has a PhD in statistics.
What are the odds that a statistics teacher (who would presumably understand just how bad the odds are) would play the lottery THAT much and also be lucky enough to win multi-million dollar prizes? What are the odds that 13 people from Ohio would have each won more than 100 prizes worth $600 or more?
Sometimes you just have to wonder. For those interested in online lotteries USGambling.com has a complete section dedicated to the few sites that offer tickets and subscriptions on the web (ohio does not).