More on Why Liquor Store Clerks Often Win Lotto

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Courtesy of helpful reader T.B. comes another possible reason why, as previously covered here and here, liquor store clerks like I used to be win lotto much more often than the odds say they should. Earlier examples of how to beat scratch-off tickets--my own primitive system and Mohan Srivastave's much more sophisticate, accurate, and now inoperative one--relied on simple odds (in my case) or spotting numerical aberrations (in his). T.B. passes along this somewhat cheesy Dateline investigation that catches some retail clerks engaging in outright fraud: lying to customers and keeping winning tickets for themselves. Here's the clip, and below it the reasons why I find it an unconvincing explanation:


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A couple things. First, this investigation focuses not on scratchers, but on Powerball-style drawings that rely on a machine to produce tickets and check winners. They pay out much larger prizes and have far fewer winners--you don't have the same "X number of winners per packet" factor that folks like me used to their advantage; presumably the winning numbers are generated randomly. So the only way to "beat" this lotto is through outright criminal fraud. Perhaps there is enough such fraud taking place to explain some of the advantage that accrues to retail clerks--but I don't buy it. There aren't that many dumb people around, and large prizes draw more scrutiny than the $5, $10, $50 prizes that come from scratchers (the Dateline clip being a case in point). 


Second, you couldn't get away with this sort of deception if you tried to pull the same scam with scratchers, because the game is so simple that no one would be deceived. Even the besotted clientele I dealt with was sharp enough to tell when they'd won. So this might make for a good Dateline clip (but my God, isn't Chris Hansen the most preening, grating fool on earth?!), but I don't think it goes very far in explaining why liquor store clerks so often clean up.
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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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