Beating the odds or fraud? It’s really hard to find out if someone’s gaming the Michigan Lottery

Sep 28, 2017
Originally published on September 27, 2017 4:53 pm

What does it take to obtain information about the Michigan Lottery? Specifically, the information about whether there are repeat winners — people cashing in on a lucky ticket over and over again at incredibly improbable odds?

That's the question a team of investigative journalists has been exploring for the Columbia Journalism Review.

The reporters looked at state lotteries across the country and discovered frequent, odds-defying winners —when they could get states to turn over lottery records under the Freedom of Information Act.

Here in Michigan, that proved to be a problem.

Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, an investigative journalist, author and assistant professor of journalism at Grand Valley State University, joined Stateside to discuss the ongoing investigations into repeat lottery winners.

“What we found was that there were more than 1,700 people across the United States winning lottery prizes of at least $600 a minimum of 50 times,” Lowenstein said.

One of those 1,700 lottery players won 7,300 times between 2011 and 2016. That's an average of four winning tickets every day. 

“That’s important to say that it is possible,” Lowenstein said. “But the initial analysis was that the statistical odds of that happening in many cases are just incredibly low.”

Getting the names of lottery winners from states under the Freedom of Information Act proved challenging as well. In Michigan, there is currently no way to tell if anyone is gaming the system because the agency that holds that information refused to release the full names of winners.

“The agency decided to invoke a provision of Michigan’s Freedom of Information law so that they gave us the first names of the winners, but not the last names. And so ultimately that rendered the data useless for any meaningful analysis,” Lowenstein said.

Listen above for the full conversation and find out more about Lowenstein's research at gamingthelottery.org.

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