Pennsylvania Launches Investigation into Suspicious Lottery Wins

Posted on: September 26, 2017, 03:18h. 

Last updated on: September 26, 2017, 04:28h.

Pennsylvania’s Office of the Auditor General has launched an investigation into implausibly frequent lottery wins, following a PennLive article which found some that state lottery players were simply winning too much.

Clarance Jones, America’s most prolific lottery winner
Clarance Jones, of Massachusetts, is America’s most prolific lottery winner, with 7,300 winning tickets. Are states doing enough to investigate frequent winners? (Image: Massachusetts State Lottery)

PennLive discovered that, between 2000 and 2016, over 200 Pennsylvanians had each claimed 50 or more lottery prizes of over $600, a tally that is so statistically improbable that there must be an alternative, perhaps more sinister explanation than they just got lucky.

“Investigations into unusually frequent winning in other states have sometimes found their wins rooted in crime: from retailers secretly stealing winning tickets from prize claimants; to cheating; to schemes that facilitate debt evasion or money laundering,” PennLive noted.

The most common infraction is a practise known as “discounting.” Since many states deduct an individual’s outstanding taxes or unpaid child support from a lottery windfall, those heavily indebted to the state may choose to sell winning tickets to a third-party discounter rather than cashing it themselves.

Convictions for Discounting

Earlier this year, in New York, Neil Ferguson, 50, of Manhattan, and Eduardo Moran-Barrera, 63, of the Bronx, were convicted of criminal tax fraud for operating a discounting scheme. Suspicions were aroused when authorities realized Moran had won the lottery 686 times in five years, winning a total of $1.48 million.

The problem is not limited to Pennsylvania and New York, of course. The PennLive investigation found that America’s luckiest lottery winner is a 79-year-old from Massachusetts, Clarance Jones, who has cashed in over 7,300 winning tickets, for a grand total of $10.8 million. There is no evidence, of course, that Jones has done anything wrong, beyond the statistical improbability of his feat.

According a statistician at the University of California, he would have had to have spent at least $300 million on tickets to have a 1-in-10 million chance of achieving this.

Failure to Investigate

Susan Woods, spokeswoman for the Auditor General’s Office, said her department was reviewing the results of PennLive’s investigation.

“We will also be reaching out to the Attorney General’s Office to discuss what might be the next best steps to ensure the integrity of Pennsylvania’s lottery,” she added.

But PennLive is concerned that states across the US are not doing enough to monitor frequent winners. In fact, of America’s 45 state lotteries, ten states said they do not systematically monitor winning patterns at all.