Lot­tery to mon­i­tor fre­quent win­ners

Vir­ginian-Pi­lot re­port­ing leads to pol­icy changes

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Local News - By Peter Coutu Staff writer Coutu can be reached by phone at 920-209-0623.

RICH­MOND — In the wake of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Vir­ginian-Pi­lot on fre­quent win­ners, the Vir­ginia Lot­tery has rolled out three pol­icy changes aimed at iden­ti­fy­ing and stop­ping po­ten­tial fraud among its roughly 5,200 re­tail­ers.

The most sig­nif­i­cant step: The state lot­tery will start reg­u­larly an­a­lyz­ing its win­ner data­base to iden­tify those fre­quently claim­ing tick­ets, Direc­tor Kevin Hall an­nounced Wed­nes­day.

“Go­ing for­ward, this will iden­tify re­peat win­ners and help us de­ter­mine if cir­cum­stances war­rant fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Hall said at one of the lot­tery’s pub­lic meet­ings.

Lot­tery spokesman John Hagerty con­firmed that the agency has started re­view­ing the state’s most fre­quent win­ners, as long as they have claimed a win­ning ticket in the last year. The roughly 40 top play­ers, which The Pi­lot iden­ti­fied to the agency months ago, had not pre­vi­ously been in­ves­ti­gated.

The Pi­lot’ s in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that be­tween 2008 and 2016, 92 peo­ple won at least 50 tick­ets worth $600 or more apiece, ac­cord­ing to data from the Vir­ginia Lot­tery. Some of th­ese play­ers col­lected prizes with sta­tis­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble fre­quency.

The story, pub­lished last month, fo­cused on whether there was ma­nip­u­la­tion of the lot­tery’s ticket re­demp­tion process — not the in­tegrity of the games them­selves. Cur­rently, it is le­gal for store own­ers and work­ers to play the lot­tery at their own busi­nesses.

One of the state’s top win­ners, from Hampton, won most of­ten at a Newport News store he owns, ac­cord­ing to lot­tery data. An­other, from Ruther Glen, cashed in more than 200 tick­ets worth a to­tal of roughly $800,000 in just a few years, the records show.

Bill Her­toghe, a for­mer direc­tor of se­cu­rity at the Cal­i­for­nia Lot­tery who has been crit­i­cal of Vir­ginia’s $2-bil­lion lot­tery oper­a­tion, said the agency’s changes are a step in the right di­rec­tion, but don’t go far enough to truly pro­tect play­ers.

He pre­vi­ously called the de­ci­sion not to scru­ti­nize fre­quent win­ners “neg­li­gent,” con­tend­ing that the state could be left vul­ner­a­ble to fraud. Previ-

Vir­ginia Lot­tery direc­tor Kevin Hall

ously, the Vir­ginia Lot­tery was one of 10 in the na­tion that did not reg­u­larly mon­i­tor fre­quent win­ners, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by Pen­nLive, a cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia news­pa­per.

“That’s just lot­tery pro­to­col. But at least they’re get­ting to it,” Her­toghe said in an in­ter­view Fri­day morn­ing. “It’s too bad it takes a news ar­ti­cle to get them off their ass.”

Be­fore The Pi­lot story was pub­lished, the Vir­ginia Lot­tery also amended its claim form to ask win­ners to iden­tify whether they’re a re­tailer or con­nected to one in any way. So far, just over 1 per­cent of peo­ple claim­ing tick­ets worth $600 or more — the amount that needs to be re­ported — are tied to re­tail­ers, ac­cord­ing to lot­tery data.

As a re­sult of its up­dated claim form, the lot­tery an­nounced this week that it had opened 16 in­ves­ti­ga­tions into po­ten­tially fraud­u­lent win­ners. Hagerty said the in­ves­ti­ga­tions are on­go­ing and de­clined to pro­vide any ad­di­tional de­tails.

Her­toghe, who was a con­sul­tant for other state lot­ter­ies, said Cal­i­for­nia started mon­i­tor­ing fre- quent win­ners and their pos­si­ble con­nec­tions to re­tail­ers more than a decade ago. Vir­ginia, he said, is just get­ting up to speed.

In or­der for the Vir­ginia Lot­tery to root out prob­lem re­tail­ers, he stressed, the agency needs to start do­ing un­der­cover stings, ei­ther ad­min­is­tra­tively or crim­i­nally. The lot­tery’s up­date gave no in­di­ca­tion whether it would take that step.

When asked if the Vir­ginia Lot­tery was plan­ning to do any such op­er­a­tions, Hagerty said they “are eval­u­at­ing se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures used in other states, and will make that de­ter­mi­na­tion at an ap­pro­pri­ate time.”

Her­toghe said, “I hope we don’t have to wait an­other decade for them to do that.”

The Vir­ginia Lot­tery took two other steps to fur­ther scru­ti­nize re­peat win­ners. The ma­te­ri­als it sends monthly to each re­tailer will “now fea­ture prom­i­nent re­minders of the rules and reg­u­la­tions about the proper han­dling of Lot­tery prod­ucts.”

Direc­tors and man­agers through­out the agency are also con­sult­ing with other states to de­ter­mine the best prac­tices re­lated to se­cu­rity and re­peat win­ners, said Hall, who be­came the lot­tery direc­tor in Jan­uary.

“I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to act on any­thing that could un­der­mine pub­lic con­fi­dence in the Vir­ginia Lot­tery,” he said at the meet­ing. “I told the re­porter we would look into this. I said we could do bet­ter, and I meant it.”

Over­all, Her tog he thought the pol­icy changes were “good progress.” If any of the past fre­quent win­ners are still ac­tive re­tail­ers, then they should be in­ves­ti­gated, he said.

“They have the re­sources,” he said. “Even if you never left your cu­bi­cle, you could fig­ure out what’s go­ing on.”

“I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to act on any­thing that could un­der­mine pub­lic con­fi­dence in the

Vir­ginia Lot­tery.”

FILE PHOTO

A Vir­ginian-Pi­lot’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that be­tween 2008 and 2016, 92 peo­ple won at least 50 tick­ets worth $600 or more apiece. Some of th­ese play­ers col­lected prizes with sta­tis­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble fre­quency.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.