Glitches, mishaps and skulduggery - the short history of lottery scandals

For most of us, the national lottery looms as the quickest and easiest way of becoming overnight millionaires.

With so many hopes and dreams riding on the bounce of a ball, it's totally understandable that Lotto and its overseas equivalents are so heavily scrutinised by the public.

This week, Irish lottery officials were just the latest to be called out by their customers, after one of their balls appeared to have two numbers on it.

"Pay out on both!" demanded one hopeful punter, while authorities insisted viewers were fooled by a trick of the light. 

Here are a few other occasions when fortunes were potentially won and lost on technical glitch, human error or pure skulduggery. 


Let's start close to home, where only three months ago, our own Lotto draw suffered a malfunction that saw Powerball number '6' dislodged from its perch by another ball still bouncing around the cage.

The re-draw was conducted off-air under audit scrutiny and eventually, number 1 was announced as the winner. No-one won the jackpot, the prize jackpotted to $6 million and social media ran amok with accusations of fixing.

"How could she say 6 if a number didn't come up!" wrote Kellie Smith. "I'm not buying tickets again, it's a con."

This scandal pales in comparison with others through Lotto history, though.


In June, fraudster Eddie Tipton admitted fixing several state lotteries and collecting millions of dollars.

The computer programmer had helped write bogus code for the lotteries in Colorado, Wisconsin, Kansas and Oklahoma, but told a Des Moines court that he believed he was taking advantage of a loophole, not committing a crime.

"I wrote software that included code that allowed me to understand or technically predict winning numbers, and I gave those numbers to other individuals, who then won the lottery and shared the winnings with me."

The gang slipped up, when they tried to anonymously claim a US$16.5 million prize in Iowa, which was against the rules. That sparked an investigation that ultimately exposed the shenanigans. 

In August, Tipton was sentenced to 25 years in prison. 


Six years ago, the South Carolina Education Lottery went a step further than our own recent mishap, when the machine selecting the winning numbers began spitting balls around the studio, much to the horror of the draw hostess.

Broadcasters also took the draw off-line and, no doubt, repaired or replaced the offending mechanism.


In 2015, Aleksandr Vulovic, the head of Serbia's national lottery, resigned after a television graphic appeared to predict a winning number.

The number '21' popped up on television screens about 30 seconds before the number emerged from the machine.

The Balkan country is no stranger to corruption at most levels, but this was the final straw for the pensioners and jobless relying on lottery winnings to raise their standard of living.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic promised: "If there was any criminal activity, these people will answer to the law.

"The path to prison is very short."

Mr Vulovic resigned on "moral grounds", but insisted the draw was completely legitimate.


Through the 1990s, the Milan lottery fell victim to a gang of finance officials, crooked cops, mafia hoods … and blindfolded children.

The kids were designated to hand pick winning numbers from a drum, but the fraudsters bribed them with millions of lira to pick the right numbers.

To ensure those balls were selected, the children's blindfolds were often loosened, the balls were coated with a sticky varnish or sometimes heated. On one occasion, a child suffered burns, when the temperature was too high.

The culprits skimmed an estimated NZ$204.5 million, before they were finally caught.


The Pennsylvania Lottery scandal of 1980 was known as the 'Triple Six Fix' and earned immortality in the movie Lucky Numbers, starring John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow.

Lottery announcer Nick Perry rigged the daily number game that required players to pick three numbers correctly to win.

He replaced standard balls with weighted balls, so only '4' and '6' would appear, drastically reducing the number of possible outcomes.

With a US$3.5 million jackpot on offer, the numbers '666' emerged, but that was a little too obvious for lottery officials and Mr Perry was soon behind bars.

The movie was arguably a bigger ripoff, rating just 22% on Rotten Tomatoes.



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