Rigging the lottery to win $14 million? It sounds like the plot of a fictional "Ocean's Sixteen." However, it actually did occur, but in Iowa, not Vegas. The criminal never did profit from his crime, and was recently convicted on fraud charges.
Eddie Tipton was a former security officer and one of the few people with access to the computer room for the multistate Hot Lotto game. Tipton was accused of rigging the lottery by using a "root kit"—a program inserted into the code of the computer that generates the random winning numbers. The root kit picked the winning numbers and then deleted itself — making it untraceable.
The inside job worked, but Tipton couldn’t collect the winnings himself. He was caught almost a year after the ticket purchase in December of 2010. With the unclaimed prize about to expire, there were two attempts to cash the ticket by people who refused to disclose the name of the buyer. It is against Iowa law to pay out jackpots anonymously for just this reason. Eventually, the ticket origin was traced back to Tipton through an old friend who was behind the attempts to cash the ticket.
Tipton was identified on video purchasing the ticket with the specific winning numbers at a convenience store in Des Moines. As a lottery employee, Tipton was not eligible to win any prizes; therefore the very act of his buying a ticket was suspicious.
Ping-pong balls are not immune to rigging either. In 1980, the host of the televised Pennsylvania lottery drawing, Nick Perry, was arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison for rigging the lottery that he hosted.
The balls were swapped out with a set weighted to choose two numbers (4 and 6), and business associates of Perry's placed large bets on all three-number combinations including 4 and 6. It is because of this that the case became known as “The Triple 6 Fix”. The group won $1.8 million dollars, but was caught due to the suspicious betting pattern. Had they not been as greedy, they might have gotten away with it. The tricksters were immortalized in 2000 in the film “Lucky Numbers,” starring John Travolta.
Might other lotteries have been rigged in a similar fashion? It is possible, but it would require a pretty solid "Ocean's"-style conspiracy, whether the lottery uses computers or ping-pong balls.
It’s difficult for any individual to rig a lottery game. The closest attempt to success was Richard Knowlton, who ran the computers for the Kansas lottery. Knowlton used the computers to turn losing scratch tickets into winners to the tune of $63,000, but claimed his effort was to prove there were security holes in the system.
The typical lottery crime involves legitimate winners who are cheated out of their money. Aside from those taking advantage of money-winners, there are multiple cases of store clerks telling a player their ticket was not a winner, then pocketing the ticket and cashing it for their own gain. The moral of the story: always check your tickets online or on a public format.
In short, there is no evidence that lotteries are rigged in any systematic fashion from either the lottery operators or players. Certainly lotteries have no need to rig the system. They are like any other game of chance and are designed to have a combination of odds and payout that generate revenue for the game operators, as they have to in order to exist.
Of course, we only read about rigging when someone is caught, and it is usually over a large attention-getting jackpot. If anyone were clever enough to rig the lottery with modest winnings and manage to spread it out over time, we would probably never know.
Photo ©iStock.com/ mphillips007