Often we see stories of people who try and cheat lottery games wherever they live. It seems some states have more than their fair share of “winners” than others. Here, we investigate the potential Wisconsin Lottery Cheats who play and win more than anyone else.
Gaming the Lottery
In the last 9 years, Khalil Audi who hails from Cudahy, Wisconsin, has cashed in thirty-three different lottery tickets and won roughly $80,000. The first win was a $10,000 Badger Cash Blowout game with a one in seventy-two thousand chance. Next, he purchased a $30 Super Millions scratch ticket with a one in two hundred thousand chance shot of a prize totaling $5000. He won that as well. Since then he has won Pick 4 a handful of times too.
Gaming the Lottery, an organization that investigates the global lottery industry has investigated the Wisconsin Lottery fully and has found that Audi isn’t the most prolific winner. That honor goes to Annie Mason of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has purchased tickets worth $600 or more sixty-five times in the last eighteen years, for total winnings of just under half a million dollars.
Eleven more people have played and cashed twenty or more winning tickets of at least $600, earning prizes totaling $100,000 or more each in that same period of time.
Neither Audi nor Mason have responded to repeated calls for comment.
Investigations into the Wins
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism when looking into this has found that three of the top thirteen players that won twenty or more times or more in recent years have close ties to the retailers selling them the winning tickets. Audi works at Charlie’s Liquor & Tobacco Mart, which was found to be home to thirty of his wins.
Due to a gap in lottery playing regulations, there are currently no laws barring lottery retailers or their employees from buying or cashing in lottery tickets at their own stores. Some believe this has opened up the system to fraud.
In news reports that have come out of Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts, and other states it has been revealed that there have been suspicious pockets of frequent winners – sometimes from people who have been working at, or connected to the stores they have bought the tickets from.
In 2009 an Iowa Ombudsman report recommended that Iowa’s lottery should stop retail employees from playing the lottery at stores where they work to ensure the games’ integrity.
This particular review included examinations of people who had won the lottery multiple times and found that several store owners and their employees were among those who had gotten lucky winning the lottery on multiple occasions.
One of the winners working within a particular retail chain had claimed eight prizes for a total of just under $300,000 in less than twelve months.
Iowa did not adopt that recommendation, and employees of lottery retailers continue to rake in big winnings, including one who cashed in $28,000 from tickets that were stolen.
In the state of Wisconsin, retailers achieve bonuses of up to $100,000 if they sell winning tickets, which effectively encourages them to bend the system.
Jean Adler, the deputy administrator of the Wisconsin Lottery, said twenty of the most frequent winners have been reviewed and continue to be monitored “to watch for additional wins that might suggest further investigation.” Only one person from that initial group has so far been fully investigated – he was cleared thirteen years ago.
Eight years ago a sting in Wisconsin found five retail clerks took winning tickets, each worth $5,000, from law enforcement officers who’d entered their shops posing as customers. Adler said “I don’t think retailers are perfect, but they’re pretty good”
How the Alleged Cheating Has Happened
There are numerous ways this can happen:
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, and store employees can potentially walk off with winnings.
It’s been suggested that some store owners and employees can steal tickets from customers who return to confirm their wins. A notable case in 2013 occurred in Eau Claire, Wisconsin when a man cashed a $10,000 winning ticket that a lottery store clerk had stolen from an elderly customer.
In another case, a computer programmer for the Multi-State Lottery Association called Eddie Tipton, rigged draws in four states, including Wisconsin, and won $2.2 million over six years. He’d installed software that would generate specific winning numbers which he then shared with associates. Last year he was tried and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison and owes the Wisconsin Lottery $406,600 in restitution.
Officials from the Wisconsin Lottery have been quick to point out that frequent winning “is not necessarily evidence of wrongdoing”. “People who win a lot are often big-time players who spend a lot of money on tickets, increasing their odds”, Adler said.
Professional Lottery Players
Laura Albert, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and expert on lottery odds, agrees with Adler. She commented that some people play the lottery professionally using “schemes that seem kind of shady but are actually OK. This can be done by monitoring games’ pay-outs and then buying a bunch of tickets when the game is far below normal pay-outs. There are a couple of different ways to win the lottery frequently. Some of them are fraudulent and some of them are not fraudulent — they’re just professional lottery players.”
Philip B. Stark is a professor of statistics at the University of California-Berkeley who has studied lottery odds for years. Using his knowledge he’s investigated the Wisconsin phenomenon and said that Stark said most of the state’s frequent winners do not appear to be particularly suspicious, based on his analysis. But some stand out.
Stark said that in the case of Audi, he would have to spend “$191,697 over eight years, or about $66 a day, to have a one-in-10 million chance of winning his $78,300 in prizes”
However, he added that the people with connections to the places where they bought their winning tickets also raise questions. Audi’s luckiest store just happens to be the Cudahy convenience store where he works.
Audi has so far declined to be interviewed or offer any comment. However, he suggested someone might want to contact Uri Marichuck, the owner of King’s Row Liquor in South Milwaukee.
When contacted. Marichuck was happy to discuss his winnings. He has become a familiar face to lottery officials having won $31,000 on twenty-five tickets over the past several years, he said. “I’m a lucky guy. It’s the same thing in the casino,” Marichuck said, joking that he “wins so much he expects to be kicked out of the gambling hall at any time”
He has admitted to seeing fraud firsthand. Nine years ago, he had to report another retailer in South Milwaukee after discovering they were stealing winning tickets from customers.
Another Frequent Winner
Stark found unlikely odds for one winner a man by the name of Jeffrey Hintz, who came under the radar of Wisconsin Lottery officials.
Stark said that Hintz would have had to spend nearly $1.1 million for the one in ten million probability of winning thirty-seven times since 2003 for a total of $117,300. However, even after a thorough investigation, he was cleared of any wrongdoing over a decade ago.
Hintz won $1,000 from the Wisconsin Lottery’s Super 2nd Chance game, in which players send in envelopes with $5 worth of losing tickets for a chance to win a drawing. The next week and every week for another four weeks. Hintz and his wife, Lisa, have won the Wisconsin Lottery’s Super 2nd Chance game at least 35 times since 2000, according to the Center’s data.
The probe into his recurrent winning concluded Hintz won the games fairly and did offer some insight into how seriously some people play to win.
Each week Hintz sent in at least five hundred envelopes containing $2,500 worth of losing tickets. One lottery retailer estimated Hintz spent at least $70 a day on tickets there.
When he was winning. Hintz submitted so many entries, he increased his chances of winning to about one in seven. Since 2012, there has been one completed in-depth investigation into a lottery winner suspected of fraud.
Some retailers have tried to combat all of this by introducing their own security. For instance, Mirza Akhtar, does not allow any of his shop employees to buy lottery tickets and check themselves out. “They can’t buy tickets and scratch it by themselves, I told them they can’t.”
His store has in fact been host to a fair share of big winnings over the years. One of these is Patrick Nowlin. Ten years ago he bought a winning ticket worth $40.1 million.
As a part of the lottery’s incentive program, Akhtar got $100,000 before taxes for selling Nowlin’s winning ticket.
Another regular winner who uses Akhtar’s store is Andrew Ylvisaker who has so far won a lot of $1,000 prizes and one for $100,000. At another retail store across town, he was lucky enough to win a $1 million jackpot. Akhtar said Ylvisaker does not work at his store but comes in two or three times a week and usually spends roughly $160 on tickets each time.
While there is no evidence of any wrongdoing in Akhtar’s store, experts said that these kinds of incentives could motivate retailers to cheat in some cases. “If you give someone a financial incentive, it is always going to introduce that incentive for a behavior you don’t want. For what degree, it depends on how incentivizing it is,” Albert said.
Stark said fraud is something that lottery officials don’t seem to be too concerned about because it won’t affect their revenue. “In some cases there is enforcement, and in some cases, there is not. 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,’ ” Stark said. “Yeah — but not that lucky.”