Monday, February 7, 2011

Toronto man cracked the code to scratch-lottery tickets

Mohan Srivastava is the statistician who cracked the OLG's scratch lottery game.Jennifer Yang - ...  Over their three decades of friendship, Hartzell has come to accept that Srivastava is simply smarter than most people. So when the 52-year-old geological statistician told him he could identify a winning scratch lottery ticket — without the use of pennies or fingernails — Hartzell believed him.

“There’s been so many things he’s done that after the fact, people go, ‘Oh yeah, why didn’t I see that?’ ” Hartzell said. “But Mo has one of those rare minds.”

Most people see a random jumble of numbers when they look at a scratch lottery ticket like Ontario’s “Tic Tac Toe” game. But for Srivastava, he saw that certain numbers appeared only once in the grids — and when these “singletons” lined up three in a row, chances were the ticket was a winner.

He calculated this held true 95 per cent of the time and notified the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. Within days, they pulled the game — the first time in OLG history a recall was prompted by a customer-identified flaw. ...

Srivastava bought 20 tickets and tied them, unscratched, into two bundles — the winners and losers. Just in case the rubber bands broke and the tickets got mixed up, he wrote a cover letter listing the serial numbers of each ticket and what his prediction was for it.

He couriered the package to the OLG. At this point, he finally felt free of the obsession that had gripped his imagination for days.

“I remember dropping them off and actually feeling that sense of this whole thing bleeding away,” he laughed. “I was like, let it go. This is about as crazy as it gets.”

But two hours later, he got a phone call. It was a member of the OLG’s security team.

“The first thing he says is, ‘We need to talk,’ ” Srivastava recalled.

Within days, the OLG pulled the game from their 10,000 retailers. Srivastava spent the next few months testing other lottery tickets from around North America, inputting data into spreadsheets and trying to determine how systemic the problem was. In 2007, he notified the OLG of a second scratch ticket that was possibly flawed, the popular Super Bingo game. The ticket was recalled as a “precautionary measure” and an independent audit was unable to prove it could be broken, said OLG spokesman Tony Bitonti.

In the end, he said, none of the lottery corporations or ticket printers were interested in fixing the problem he identified. The issue was brushed off as a “fluke” and one American ticket printer even threatened him with litigation, he said.

Today, Srivastava says it’s quite likely flawed tickets are still on store shelves. He sees potential for greater consequences —evidence suggests flawed lottery tickets are being exploited for money laundering — and is confused by the lack of will to remedy a problem he helped identify.

“If there are some people that are skimming winners, or more able to skim winners, what that means for everyone else is they’re getting more losers,” he said. “There’s kind of a cruel unfairness for the people left over who weren’t in on the trick.”

via Toronto man cracked the code to scratch-lottery tickets -

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