Special Report: Secrets of the Lottery

Special Report: Secrets of the Lottery

CUDAHY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Lottery fever hit Wisconsin hard in October. Convenience stores were slammed with sales from customers dreaming big in hopes of winning a $1 billion prize. The odds are against players, but there are retail stores that have a history of selling winning tickets, like Charlie's Discount Liquor and Tobacco in Cudahy. According to lottery data, they've sold 58 winning tickets, totaling nearly $345,000, since 2010. 

"I have stacks and stacks of customers that win the lottery in our store because we sell so much lottery.”

Audi himself is among the winners. He's won 36 times since 2011, raking in almost $100,000. 

"I like to play the Pick 3, my son's birth date, and sometimes I'll take a scratch off and scratch it." 

It's not illegal for retailers to play the lottery. Jean Adler, the Deputy Director of the Wisconsin Lottery, says when retailers buy tickets, they own them.

"We do not sell on consignment. It’s theirs like any other merchandise they sell. So, they can choose to play them if they want to. We don’t have anything that bans them," said Adler. 

As for Audi's frequent wins, Adler says winning is in direct correlation to sales. Charlie's Discount Liquor and Tobacco sells a lot of tickets; therefore, their odds of winning are higher. 

"I wouldn’t be putting in 15 hours a day if I knew which tickets were winners," said Audi.

Audi is not the only frequent winner in Wisconsin, nor has he won the most. 

According to lottery data, Joe from Milwaukee has won the lottery 43 times since 2012, raking in over $2 million. Howard from Milwaukee has won 47 times, bringing in $47,000. Chris from Pewaukee has 40 wins since 2010. He's taken home $50,000. And with 38 wins since 2010, Michael from Jackson has earned nearly $83,000.

The Wisconsin lottery operates under the Department of Revenue. There are 60 employees, some of whom work on the security team, monitoring frequent winners and investigating when necessary. Adler says the first step is to look into what types of games frequent winners are playing. 

"Almost all of them are playing games that have low dollars wins, but they show up on the winner list because they’re over $600," said Adler. "When you see people who hit the winner list frequently, they are our most frequent players." 

Scratch off games with low prizes have the best odds to win. Lottery data shows the most frequent winners are playing those small-prize games.

Of Audi's 36 wins, 26 were for $1,000 or less. All but three of Chris' 40 wins were for $1,000, so were 31 of Michael's 38 wins. 

Pick 3 and Pick 4 games also produce frequent winners.

"Often times people have numbers they like to play, and they’ll actually play those numbers multiple times to a single draw," said Adler. "So, if they buy four tickets that have the same numbers, and they hit, they’ll show four different wins because each of those is considered a win."

If frequent winners are playing small prize games and winning often, Adler says the investigation usually stops there. If there are more questions, the lottery security team conducts interviews and can request surveillance video. Adler says there have been no cases that have resulted in fraud. 

Non-fraudulent, frequent winners don't have better odds than anyone else, but a lottery expert and systems engineer at UW-Madison says there are things you can do to increase what you take home. 

"You’re more likely to have a higher payout if you pick bigger numbers, and this is because when people choose numbers, they tend to choose numbers based on birthdays. So, the numbers 1-12 are chosen most frequently. And the numbers 1-30 are also chosen a lot," said Laura Albert, the Assistant Dean in the College of Engineering.  

"You’re more likely to be the only winner, who doesn’t have to split the jackpot, if you choose bigger numbers, and those happen to be the right numbers." 

The odds to win are better in games with smaller prizes, like scratch off games. National games, like Powerball and Mega Millions, have a bigger entry pool, so your odds are better in state lotteries. The more you play, the more likely you are to win. 

Lottery ticket security

If you do get a winning ticket, Adler has some advice. First and foremost, sign the ticket. If you're not sure if it's a winner, take it to a lottery retailer. All stores are equipped with self-check stations. 

"A player can walk up, scan their ticket, and it will tell them the dollar amount they’ve won, if it’s a winning tickets under $600. If it’s a winning ticket, but over $600, it will say claim at lottery. If it’s a non-winning ticket, it’ll say not a winning ticket." 

There is also a player's hotline for questions 608-266-7777. 

There are about 3,900 retailers selling lottery tickets in Wisconsin. According to Adler, to qualify to sell lottery, retailers cannot have any felonies or gambling offenses, not even a misdemeanor. Their contracts are renewed every three years. 

Employees of the Wisconsin Lottery are not allowed to play. All employees get background and finger print checks every five years. 

Property tax relief

The lottery is celebrating 30 years in 2018. Since the first ticket was sold in 1988, the Wisconsin lottery has provided a credit toward property tax relief. In all, the lottery has given back $4.3 billion in property tax relief. 

"This year we did $236 million that will go towards property tax relief. That equates to about $160 on average for homeowners," said Adler.

To learn more about the Wisconsin lottery and to check your odds, click here.  

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