Seven-time lottery winner shares secret to winning Powerball - CBS NewsHow to Win on Lottery Tickets. Buying lottery tickets is easy, but since state-run lotteries in the USA typically pay out only half of their revenue to the winners, there's a house edge of about 50 percent. To boost your odds of winning on...
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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Who says lightning doesn't strike twice? Last week, CBS2 told you about Bruce Magistro winning a million-dollar scratch off lottery ticket for the second time. Is it just luck or is there a strategy to winning at scratch-offs? CBS2's Maurice DuBois reveals the secrets to increasing.
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For those of you who still think you can beat the odds, there actually is a strategy. The single surefire way to win money from playing the Powerball lottery is to buy 39 tickets, each one hand-picked to contain one of the unique Powerball numbers between 1 and 39. You are then guaranteed to at least win the $3 prize.
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Upon reading this headline, you probably thought my experiment was doomed to fail. You clicked anyway. I also thought the experiment would be a dumb waste of money. I did it anyway. What made you click this article and what made me buy a Florida Lottery $1 scratch-off ticket every day for one month ...
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They say you are more likely to be struck by lightning twice than to ever win the lotto. The only trouble is there are plenty of folks who are living proof that maybe that's not quite as true as we believe. Bruce Magistro, for example, won a million-dollar scratch-off ticket just last week, for the...
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Secrets the lottery doesn't want you to knowIs the apparent randomness of the scratch ticket just a facade, a mathematical lie?
Photo: John Midgley Is the apparent randomness of the scratch ticket just a facade, a mathematical lie?
Photo: John Midgley Mohan Srivastava, a geological statistician living in Toronto, was working in his office in June 2003, waiting for some files to download onto his computer, when he discovered a couple of old lottery tickets buried under some paper on his desk.
The tickets were cheap scratchers—a gag gift from his squash partner—and Srivastava found himself wondering if any of them were winners.
He fished secret to winning lottery tickets coin out of a drawer and began scratching off the latex coating.
Its design was straightforward: On the right were eight tic-tac-toe boards, dense with different numbers.
On the left was a box source "Your Numbers," covered with a scratchable latex coating.
The goal was to scrape off the latex and compare the numbers under it to the digits on the boards.
If three of "Your Numbers" appeared on a board in a straight line, you'd won.
Srivastava matched up each of his numbers with the digits on the boards, and much to his surprise, the ticket had a tic-tac-toe.
Of course, it would be really nice if the computer could just spit out random digits.
But that's not possible, since the lottery corporation needs to control the number of winning tickets.
The game can't be truly random.
Instead, it has to generate the illusion of randomness while actually being carefully determined.
He has a neatly trimmed beard and a messy office.
When he talks about a subject he's interested in—and he's interested in many things, from military encryption to freshwater fossils—his words start to run into each other.
As a trained statistician with degrees from MIT and Stanford University, Srivastava was intrigued by the technical problem posed by the lottery ticket.
In fact, it reminded him a lot of his day job, which involves consulting for mining and oil companies.
A typical assignment for Srivastava goes like this: A mining company has multiple samples from a potential gold mine.
Each sample gives a different estimate of the amount of mineral underground.
There are fundamental geologic forces that created those numbers.
If I know the forces, I can decipher the samples.
I can figure out how much gold is underground.
The apparent randomness of the scratch ticket was just a facade, a mathematical lie.
And this meant that the lottery system might actually be solvable, just like those mining samples.
He was just curious about the algorithm that produced the numbers.
Walking back from the gas station with the chips and coffee he'd bought with his winnings, he turned the problem over in his mind.
By the time he reached the office, he was confident that he knew how the software might work, how it could precisely control the number of winners while still appearing random.
The thrill of winning had worn off; he forgot about his lunchtime adventure.
But then, as he walked by the gas station later that evening, something strange happened.
I'll never forget what it said: 'If you do it that way, if you use that algorithm, there will be a flaw.
The game will be flawed.
You will be able to crack the ticket.
You will be able to plunder the lottery.
These tickets have a grand history: Lotteries were used to fund the American colonies and helped bankroll the young nation.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, lotteries funded the expansion of Harvard and Yale and allowed the construction of railroads across the continent.
Since 1964, when New Hampshire introduced the first modern state lottery, governments have come to rely on gaming revenue.
Forty-three states and every Canadian province currently run lotteries.
While approximately half of Americans buy at least one lottery ticket at some point, the vast majority of tickets are purchased by about 20 percent of the population.
These high-frequency players tend to be poor and uneducated, which is why critics refer to lotteries as a regressive tax.
In a 2006 survey, 30 percent of people without a high school degree said that playing the lottery was a wealth-building strategy.
There was a time when scratch games all but sold themselves.
But in the past two decades the competition for the gambling dollar has dramatically increased.
As a result, many state lotteries have redesigned their tickets.
One important strategy involves the use of what lottery designers call extended play.
Although extended-play games—sometimes referred to as baited hooks—tend to look like miniature spreadsheets, they've proven extremely popular with consumers.
Instead of just scratching off the latex and immediately discovering a loser, players have to spend time matching up the revealed numbers with the boards.
Ticket designers fill the cards with near-misses two-in-a-row matchups instead of the necessary three and players spend tantalizing seconds looking for their win.
No wonder players get hooked.
Srivastava had been hooked by a different sort of lure—that spooky voice, whispering to him about a flaw in the game.
At first, he tried to brush it aside.
It took a few hours of studying his tickets and some statistical sleuthing, but he discovered a defect in the game: The visible numbers turned out to reveal essential information about the digits hidden under the latex coating.
Nothing needed to be scratched off—the ticket could be cracked if you knew the secret code.
The trick itself is ridiculously simple.
Srivastava would later teach it to his 8-year-old daughter.
Each ticket contained eight tic-tac-toe boards, and each space on those boards—72 in all—contained an exposed number from 1 to 39.
As a result, some of these numbers were repeated multiple times.
Perhaps the number 17 was repeated three times, and the number 38 was repeated twice.
And a few numbers appeared only once on the entire card.
Srivastava's startling insight was that he could separate the winning tickets from the losing tickets by looking at the number of times each of the digits occurred on the tic-tac-toe boards.
In other words, he didn't look at the ticket as a sequence of 72 random digits.
Instead, he categorized each number according to its frequency, counting how many times a given number showed up on a given ticket.
He realized that the singletons were almost always repeated under the latex coating.
If three singletons appeared in a row on one of the eight boards, that ticket was probably a winner.
The next day, on his way into work, he stopped at the gas station and bought a few more tickets.
Sure enough, all of these tickets contained the telltale pattern.
The day after that he picked up even more tickets from different stores.
These were also breakable.
After analyzing his results, Srivastava realized that the singleton trick worked about 90 percent of the time, allowing him to pick the winning tickets before they were scratched.
His next thought was utterly predictable: "I remember thinking, I'm gonna be rich!
I'm gonna plunder the lottery!
However, these grandiose dreams soon gave way to more practical concerns.
But to be honest, I makeand I find consulting to be a lot more interesting than scratch lottery tickets.
Srivastava thought its top officials might want to know about his discovery.
Who knows, maybe they'd even hire him to give them statistical advice.
I'd simply done the math and concluded that beating the game wasn't worth my time.
After failing to make contact for a few days, he began to get frustrated: Why wasn't Zufelt taking his revelation more seriously?
No wonder they didn't want to talk to me.
He bought 20 tic-tac-toe tickets and sorted them, unscratched, into piles of winners and losers.
Then, he couriered the package to Zufelt along with the following note: In the enclosed envelopes, I have sent you two groups of 10 TicTacToe tickets that I purchased from various outlets around Toronto in the past week.
You go ahead and scratch off the cards.
Maybe you can give one batch to your lottery ticket specialist.
After you've scratched them off, you should have a pretty solid sense for whether or not there's something fishy here.
The package was sent at 10 am.
Two hours later, he received a call from Zufelt.
Srivastava had correctly predicted 19 out of the 20 tickets.
The next day, the tic-tac-toe game was pulled from stores.
How to Pick a Winner The first lottery Mohan Srivastava decoded was a tic-tac-toe game run by the Ontario Lottery in 2003.
He was able to identify winning tickets with 90 percent accuracy.
Here's how it works.
You'll be hunting for so-called singletons—numbers on the visible tic-tac-toe grid that appear only once on the whole card.
If, for example, a cell has a 26 in it and the number 26 occurs one other time somewhere on the card, mark that cell with a 2.
If any of the singletons appear in a tic-tac-toe then the ticket is almost certainly a winner: The numbers in these cells will appear under the latex coating at the left side of the ticket.
Scratch off secret to winning lottery tickets latex.
You've got a winner!
Not surprisingly, after Srivastava alerted the Ontario Lottery to his technique, the game was pulled from stores.
The official explanation from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation is that the tic-tac-toe game suffered from a "design flaw.
The story of the broken game got little public attention.
It was, however, cited in a by the Ontario ombudsman, who was investigating retailer fraud.
Srivastava, meanwhile, was becoming even more interested in scratch tickets.
What were the odds that I just happened to stumble upon the only breakable game the very first time I played the lottery?
Of course, I knew it was possible that every other scratch game was totally secure.
I just didn't think it was very likely.
Srivastava soon discovered that it wasn't just an Ontario problem.
At the time, one of his best friends was living in Colorado, and Srivastava asked him to send along a few tickets.
It turned out that the same singleton trick also worked on the Colorado game, albeit with only a 70 percent level of accuracy.
Colorado Lottery officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Srivastava was even able to break a sold in Ontario in 2007which also featured an elaborate baited hook.
In this case, he says he could sort winners from losers with a 70 percent success rate.
The Ontario Lottery says the Super Bingo game didn't have the same flaw as the tic-tac-toe game but that it was pulled off the Ontario market in March 2007 as a precaution.
In North America, the vast majority of lottery tickets—everything from daily draw Pick 4-style games to small-stakes tic-tac-toe and bingo scratchers—are produced by a handful of companies like, and Pollard Banknote.
These publicly traded firms oversee much of the development, algorithm design, and production of the different gambling games, and the state lotteries are largely dependent on their expertise.
Ross Dalton is president of Gtech Printing, and he acknowledges that the "breakability" of tickets is a constant concern.
Several other printing companies declined to comment.
Previous forensic hacks have included vodka, which swelled the hidden ink, and the careful use of X-Acto knives.
The printers have also become concerned about the barcodes on the tickets, since the data often contains information about payouts.
Consider 2003 payout statistics from and Virginia, which Srivastava calculated.
Many lotteries disclose claimed prizes on their websites.
In both states, certain scratch games generated payout anomalies that should be extremely rare.
The anomalies are always the same: Break-even tickets—where the payout is equal to the cost—are significantly underredeemed while certain types of winning tickets are vastly overredeemed.
In fact, the majority of scratch games with baited hooks in Washington and Virginia displayed this same irregularity.
It's as if people had a knack for buying only tickets that paid out more than they cost.
According to Srivastava, that could well be what's happening.
The state lotteries insist that people simply forget to redeem break-even tickets, although it remains unclear why only some games show the anomaly.
They're a waste of time.
Instead, you'd want to buy only the tickets that made money.
If there were people doing this, if there were people who could sort the winners from the losers, then what you'd see on the payout statistics is exactly what we see.
This is what a plundered game looks like.
He lays out a surprisingly practical plan for what he would do: "At first glance, the whole problem with plundering is one of scale," he says.
So I'd probably want to invent some sort of scanning device that could quickly sort the tickets for me.
But that may not be an insurmountable problem.
He asked several Toronto retailers if they would object to him buying tickets and then exchanging the unused, unscratched tickets.
Nobody was even a tiny bit suspicious," he says.
Because they all assumed the games are unbreakable.
So what I would try to do is buy up lots of tickets, run them through my scanning machine, and then try to return the unscratched losers.
Of course, you could also just find a retailer willing to cooperate or take a bribe.
That might be easier.
A potential plunderer would need to sort through these tickets and selectively pick the winners.
The losers would be sold to unwitting customers—or returned to the lottery after the game was taken off the market.
At the moment, Srivastava's suspicions remain entirely hypothetical; there is no direct evidence that anybody has plundered a game.
Nevertheless, there's a disturbing body of anecdotal evidence in addition to those anomalous statistics that suggests that the secret to winning lottery tickets aren't perfect.
Consider a by the Massachusetts state auditor.
The report does not provide the name of the lucky winner.
The auditor attributed the high number of payouts going to single individuals to professional cashers.
These cashers turn in others' winning tickets—they are paid a small percentage—so the real winners can avoid taxes.
But if those cashers were getting prepicked winners, that could be hard to uncover.
At the time, authorities thought Bulger was using the lottery to launder money: take illicit profits, buy a share in a winning lottery ticket, redeem it, and end up with clean cash.
In this respect, the lottery system seems purpose-built for organized crime, says Michael Plichta, unit chief of the.
That's when I began to realize that they were using the games to launder cash.
But what if criminals aren't playing the lottery straight?
What if they have a method that, like Srivastava's frequency-of-occurrence trick, can dramatically increase the odds of winning?
As Srivastava notes, if organized crime had a system that could identify winning tickets more than 65 percent of the time, then the state-run lottery could be turned into a profitable form of money laundering.
But the circumstantial evidence, as noted by the FBI, is certainly troubling.
She bought two of the winners from the same store in Bishop, Texas.
What's strangest of all, perhaps, is that three of Ginther's wins came from scratch tickets with baited hooks and not from Mega Millions or Powerball.
Perhaps Ginther is simply the luckiest person on earth.
She has refused almost all requests from journalists for comment.
While the lotteries are extremely rigorous about various aspects of security, from the integrity of the latex to the cashing of tickets at stores, the industry appears to have not considered the possibility of plundering the games using the visible numbers on the ticket.
For instance, when I contacted thetheir security experts couldn't recall having heard of Mohan Srivastava or the broken Ontario games.
This is one of the largest trade associations of lotteries in the world, and it had no recollection that at least a few of its games had been proven to be fatally flawed.
And this is why the story of the crackable tic-tac-toe tickets has larger significance.
They said it couldn't be broken.
The veneer of chance can be peeled away.
What's most disturbing, perhaps, is that even though Srivastava first brought these flaws to the attention of the authorities in 2003, they continue to appear.
A few months ago, Srivastava bought some scratch tickets at convenience stores in Toronto.
He started out with a Bingo ticket, which featured an elaborate hook.
After a day of statistical analysis, Srivastava was able to double his chances of choosing a winning ticket.
Normally, 30 percent of the tickets feature a payout—he was able to select winners approximately 60 percent of the time.
If the tickets were uncrackable, approximately two of them should have been winners.
Instead, Srivastava ended up with four.
The odds of this happening by chance are approximately one in 50.
And yet he's done it multiple times with a variety of Bingo and Super Bingo games.
An Ontario Lottery spokesperson says they're unaware of the issue.
How did he do it?
He used a version of the frequency trick.
The number of times a digit appeared on the baited hook revealed crucial information about the bingo numbers underneath the latex coating.
Srivastava could tilt the odds in his favor, like a gambler counting cards in a casino.
The fact that these games can be manipulated, that a geological statistician can defeat their algorithm, seems to undercut a crucial part of the lottery's appeal.
Everybody knows that the chances of winning a big payday are minuscule, a tiny 1 in front of an awful lot of zeros.
But secret to winning lottery tickets play anyway, because hope is an irrational hunch.
We assume that, even if the odds are stacked against us, we might get lucky.
Today might be the day.
And then, when the latex reveals a stack of losers, when we've lost our money yet again, we blame the fickleness of fate.
But maybe our bad luck isn't the problem.
Maybe we never win because someone else has broken the game.
Contributing editor Jonah Lehrer wrote about the new science of stress in issue 18.
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