Can You Cheat the Lottery? History Says Maybe

Nick Perry fixed the daily numbers in Pennsylvania to make him an overnight millionaire, but his scheme was quickly uncovered by lottery officials. (Image:
Nick Perry fixed the daily numbers in Pennsylvania to make him an overnight millionaire, but his scheme was quickly uncovered by lottery officials. (Image:

Can You Cheat The Lottery? Yes And No

Lotteries have played a vital role in the formation of many great countries including the United States. During America’s earliest days, Jamestown and the 12 other colonies took advantage of running a lottery system in order to fund its schools, construction endeavors, and public works. When the country designated Washington D.C. as its capital in 1790, the so-called National Lottery was enacted by Congress to bankroll the beautification of the city.

Today, 43 states plus the District of Columbia offer government-controlled lotteries featuring everything from numbers games, lotto to instant scratch-offs and interstate multi-jurisdiction formats like Mega Millions and Powerball. Lotteries are responsible for generating $70 billion in gross revenues and $20 billion annually net, more than movie tickets, music, and pornography combined.

Nations around the globe have lotteries with millions and even billions of monies in the overall jackpots, and it’s no wonder criminals and cheats have routinely attempted to beat the system. Some have succeeded, but most have failed.

Not So Lucky Numbers

The Pennsylvania Lottery is the fourth most profitable system in the US, with revenues going to support older Pennsylvanians through a series of wellness programs. But the Pennsylvania Lottery is more commonly known outside the Keystone State for being the victim of arguably the most famous lottery scandal.

The year was 1980 and Nick Perry is seen every evening in households across the state calling the Daily Numbers. Struggling just to make ends meat at WTAE in Pittsburgh, a local ABC affiliate, Perry contrives a plan to rig the lottery by creating weighted table tennis balls to serve as replicas of the Pennsylvania Lottery’s official drawing balls. Along with the station’s art director and several others including a lottery official, 666 was drawn on April 24, 1980, with five players coming forward to collect a $1.8 million prize.

Of course, Perry and his “Triple Six Fix” cohorts didn’t get away with the scheme as officials became suspect due to an abundance of betting on the number 6. Perry was sentenced to seven years behind bars, two of which he served before being released. “Lucky Numbers,” a 2000 film starring John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow, was loosely based on the scandal.

Great Fall of China

China’s Welfare Lottery doesn’t mess around when it comes to cheating. A man by the name Zhao Liqun discovered in 2007 that after the lottery numbers were drawn, a five-minute loophole allowed new bets to be placed. Liqun took advantage of the mistake three times, taking over $4 million dollars. But he wasn’t a winner for long, as he was soon discovered by the Chinese government and sentenced to life in prison.

Eye of the Beholder

The cheating scandal surrounding the Milan Lotto was perhaps the most costly in the history of “random” drawing games as the city lost more than $174 million during the mid 1990s. Milan routinely had blindfolded children pulling the balls from the lottery cage, but little did they know the children were being bribed by scammers and gang members who rigged the cage with tampered balls. Children would feel for the differences or peer through the blindfold to grab the balls the cheaters desired. Several organized crime members were charged with extortion and blackmail.

Unfortunately for everyone looking to strike it rich quick, there's no handy kit to beat the long odds of winning the lottery. (Image:
Unfortunately for everyone looking to strike it rich quick, there’s no handy kit to beat the long odds of winning the lottery. (Image:


Cheating From Scratch

Mohan Srivastava, a Toronto statistician, didn’t much cheat the lottery as he did solve it. In 2003, he discovered a way to determine whether instant tic-tac-toe scratch-off games were winners or losers. Each card came with eight tic-tac-toe boards complete with 72 numbers. On the left side of the card was the “Your Numbers” section, 24 scratch-off numbers that were used to see whether you had tic-tac-toe.

Srivastava discovered a correlation between the frequency of the numbers on the right with winning. “The numbers themselves couldn’t have been more meaningless,” he told Wired magazine in 2011. “But whether or not they were repeated told me nearly everything I needed to know.”

According to his theory (which was eventually proved), if a number only appeared once, and three one-time numbers were shown in a tic-tac-toe winning line, the card was a winner. “I assumed the lottery was unbreakable,” but Srivastava proved otherwise. Unfortunately, he also discovered his efforts could only net him around $600 a day, less than the sum he was making as a geological statistician. Instead, he took his findings to the Ontario Lottery, who after initially dismissing his claims, pulled the game from stores after he sent them 20 unscratched cards and correctly identified 19 to whether they were winners or losers.

Cheating Moving Forward

There’s a reason why the lottery is often referred to as a tax on the poor, the group most likely to buy lottery tickets, and that’s because its odds of winning are dismal compared to even games found in a traditional casino. Others, not so kindly, call the lottery a “tax on the dumb.”

Fraudsters market programs to the uneducated claiming they have discovered a proven method to win at random number drawings, and because their disclaimers state they make no guarantee of winning, little can be done to ban the products.

Your date of birth isn’t that lucky, nor is your firstborn’s favorite number. The only way to beat the lottery is through luck, and luck isn’t something available for sale, as least to our knowledge.