Srivastava had been hooked by a different sort of lure—that spooky voice, whispering to him about a flaw in the game. At first, he tried to brush it aside. “Like everyone else, I assumed that the lottery was unbreakable,” he says. “There’s no way there could be a flaw, and there’s no way I just happened to discover the flaw on my walk home.”

And yet, his inner voice refused to pipe down. “I remember telling myself that the Ontario Lottery is a multibillion-dollar-a- year business,” he says. “They must know what they’re doing, right?”

That night, however, he realized that the voice was right: The tic-tac-toe lottery was seriously flawed. It took a few hours of studying his tickets and some statistical sleuthing, but he discovered a defect in the game: The visible numbers turned out to reveal essential information about the digits hidden under the latex coating. Nothing needed to be scratched off—the ticket could be cracked if you knew the secret code.




  1. deowll says:

    Um so why didn’t he just buy up the right tickets and get rich?

    Yeah I know he was right but why tell everybody?

  2. ± says:

    When these things came out ~30 years ago, it was obvious that store owners could get rich, just xray them before you sell them ….

    Back then, in PA they peeled them off of a roll. I don’t know how it is done now. If they are dispensed by a machine, the dude in the truck loading the machine can xray them.

    This is true of any scratch off lottery ticket.

  3. nobody says:

    #1 – he describes n the article, he would make a maximum of $600/day – less than he made as a consultant.

    Unless he did some sort of deal with a store to allow him to check all the tickets in advance – which would be unfair ( he is Canadian after all)

  4. msbpodcast says:

    #2, I guess you play them as often as I do. The numbers are actually covered up with a metallic based scratch off layer which prevents exactly the x-ray scanning that you’re suggesting.

    NEXT!

    I think the numbers referred to are visible in plain sight on the card.

  5. Alt173 says:

    “Instead of secretly plundering the game, he decided to go to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.”
    – Geez, from the perspective of the poor little guy, thanks a lot, douchebag… Ever hear of ‘spreading the wealth’??

    “Ross Dalton is president of Gtech Printing…’It’s a constant race to stay ahead of the bad guys.’”
    – “bad guys”? Really? Or just smarter than you? How does that make them “bad”? Way to frame the debate, Ross (douchebag).

    As an earlier commenter alluded to, in PA these tickets are on a roll, and when you buy a certain quantity (x), the retailer just takes the next x number of tickets off the roll… So you’d have to be in collusion with a retailer in order to go thru the whole roll and only take the most likely winners. Conclusion: Me still po’.

  6. Glenn E. says:

    What this article proved is that if you manage to get a degree in math, you’ll likely make more money at your day job, than you could breaking some dumb ass scratch-all games. And the reverse is apparently true. If your education is very poor in math skills, you’re much more likely to believe you’ll win at playing their game. Or any of a number of games. So legalized gambling is really about exploiting the ignorant and weak willed. And only a little bit more acceptable to the States offering alcoholics cheap booze, or the morally depraved, cheap women. All in the name of raising revenue, without taxing the rich and better educated. So… how is this capitalist miracle, so superior to socialism?

  7. WmDE says:

    Someone once asked me what would be some good lottery numbers.

    I said ” 1 2 3 4 5 6.”

    They said that will never happen.

    I said it has the same chance as any other six numbers.

    They didn’t believe me.

  8. 1873 Colt says:

    1. In California, OUR SCHOOLS WIN, TOO!

    2. Anyone playing the lottery deserves to lose, so that others may win.

    3. If you don’t play, you can’t lose.

    The longer this crap goes on, the more stupid little CrackerJack games they print.

    Seems to me that most lottery players also smoke. Another gamble.

  9. Yankinwaoz says:

    When someone tells me they are going to buy a lotto ticket, I make them an offer. I offer then 50 cents if they give me their lotto dollar. I guarantee they win with me, much better odds. No one has taken me up so far.

  10. soundwash says:

    old news

    the pattern is the key and the key is in the pattern..

    one you are able to “see it”

    you can game many of the games

    the secret: don’t be greedy.

    -s

  11. Benjamin says:

    You just happen to see the next one on the roll. You can’t unroll it and pick and choose. That is how gaming this works.

  12. Nobody says:

    #7 – somebody published an analysis of the UK national lottery. If you picked 1 2 3 4 5 6 you would share the jackpot with about 30,000 other people, you would do better picking 1 2 3 4 5 7 and pocketing the 100,000 “5 out of 6″ 2nd prize.

    #11 – in the Canaidan lottery you could pick the cards you want – they weren’t on a roll.
    And the lottery regs said you could return unused cards for a refund, this was supposed to reduce gambling addiction – because you could change your mind!

  13. Publius says:

    ““There is nothing random about the lottery,” he says. “In reality, everything about the game has been carefully designed to control payouts and entice the consumer.” Of course, these elaborate design elements mean that the ticket can be undesigned, that the algorithm can be reverse-engineered. The veneer of chance can be peeled away.”

    When they intentionally add nonrandomness to their games, the nonrandomness can be detected. Incredibly, the self-defense excuses from game companies and states and FBI are still the status quo.

    What this means is they — the public at large who finance lotteries — are continuing to expose themselves to unnecessary risk to people who understand how to analyze randomness scientifically, such as cryptanalysts.

    The self-protective fools who are in charge in our government crime units should be terminated before they lose all the public’s money this way.

    Like the statistician said, you just look at the numbers. You do not need to cheat at all, despite the self-protective lies by the game companies and the government workers.

    Without any cheating at all the deciphering of these badly designed number choices on the “bait” style cards will continue to be defeated by elementary cryptanalysis techniques, until they fix the games.

    Dear Government Worker: Hire a freaking actuary or statistician or cryptanalyst already, and show the game companies what is wrong with their damn games, before the public who funds these stupid games loses more money.

  14. AlrightyThen says:

    This is so last week.

  15. The Monster's Lawyer says:

    Lotto = Stupid Tax

  16. CrankyGeeksFan says:

    It reminds me of The “Press Your Luck” TV game show scandal from 1984. The game show contestant, Michael Larson, deciphered the patterns of a video board used on the show.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHa4f3ebf-M

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Larson

  17. God, Allah and other monikers says:

    I particularly like this part:

    “I swear I’m not the kind of guy who hears voices,” Srivastava says. “But that night, as I passed the station, I heard a little voice coming from the back of my head. I’ll never forget what it said: ‘If you do it that way, if you use that algorithm, there will be a flaw. The game will be flawed. You will be able to crack the ticket. You will be able to plunder the lottery.’”

    That voice was me. It’s just too much fun being God.

  18. Publius says:

    @12:

    The analysis in the UK was fundamentally flawed.

    If you picked 1 2 3 4 5 6 you are essentially using a losing strategy.

    The thesis of the article here was that the design of some games is NONrandom.

  19. akallio says:

    The article states “The problem is that when there’s a lot of money involved, unscrupulous people are always going to be looking for new ways to game the system, or worse.”

    Seems to me that the lottery in and of itself is unscrupulous, here in North Carolina they got a state lottery “for the children” (supposedly for education funds). But the kicker is that the NC government slashed the normal allocation of education funds to match the windfall of lottery “winnings”. Ergo, the politicians run a gambling house to buy more votes.

  20. CrankyGeeksFan says:

    #19 akallio – The same thing happened in Florida when that state started its lottery around 1990. I think California had the same problem before that. Georgia’s lottery law is written so that the offsetting of funds isn’t supposed to happen.

    Question: Where did the normal allocation of funds go? In Florida, I think it went to Medicaid.

  21. Nobody says:

    # 13 the author discusses that, the pattern of claimed wins in almost all lotteries is biased – too many small ‘ie another free card’ wins go unclaimed, and too many people win multiple jackpots. The assumption is that this sort of activity occurs frequently.

    But to the people running the lottery this doesn’t matter – as long as customers (idiots) buy tickets it doesn’t really matter if a lucky winner, a clever mathematician, or a criminal gang win. The only problem is if the customers (idiots) find out about it and stop playing.

    #18 – the UK lottery itself is random (6 balls from 39) but people’s choices of numbers is very interesting. The computer system for example was unable to count winners quickly enough to announce them live because the designer assumed that wins would be distributed evenly across all possible numbers. In fact numbers 1-31 are chosen much more often than 32-39 – most people pick birthdays.

  22. deowll says:

    #15 I don’t gamble because I can’t stand to loose. I may make bad choices but I don’t do something for nothing.

    I don’t think the people that do bet on lotteries are actually stupid. They are buying hope in the form of at least a small adrenaline rush. They know the odds are against them and they bet anyway. They even budget the same modest wager on a regular bases.

    A friend, sunshine, showed me her numbers yesterday and was up because she only missed by one digit. Sunshine teaches math so I’m pretty sure she can figure the odds but she is getting some sort of emotional high out of gambling.

    The guy who broke the system did it more or less by accident because he was betting on the things if I recall correctly even though it was a total waste of his time and money and he had to know it.

    Both of these people have to know the odds but for some reason the thrill is worth the money to them.

  23. Mextli says:

    I have watched people put over 2K in a video crack machine then hit $500 and yell “I won! I won!”.

    I always wanted to cut a slot in the wall, put some lights around it, and guarantee a win of at least $500 for every $1,500 bet.

  24. nobody says:

    #23 – games of pure chance (one arm bandits) generally have a required minimum payout – typically 70-75% of the amount paid in.

    Ironically, video poker machines, as a game of skill – don’t.

  25. gildersleeve says:

    Reminds me of the Beavis and Butthead episode with the Stop-N-Rob cashier busy scratching off lottery tickets off of a big spool of tickets. Half the spool is on the floor. HAH! Always good for a titter.

  26. Hmeyers says:

    I watched a guy buy a whole roll of lottery tickets and scratch them off. He had maybe 15-20 $1-$3 dollar winners, and a couple of $20 winners.

    Lottery tickets are a huge scam.

    The people that buy them regularly are horrible with money, if they did not waste the $$$ on lottery tickets they would find something else equally worthless to rid them of their cash.

    The lottery system helps the dumbest recycle their money back to the state government … which is probably the best thing in the end.

  27. CrankyGeeksFan says:

    # 25 Gildersleeve – I thought of that episode, too.

    I guess the scratch-off lottery player has to visually inspect the ticket rolls that are behind the cashier.

    Didn’t something like this happen to a McDonald’s Monopoly prize game years ago?

  28. rom_vd says:

    Can anyone explain something?
    Even if this guy from Canada found the pattern how can he buy the exact ticket he wants? As far as i know you don’t get to choose those. Either the clerk gives you one or the machine. So even if he broke the code he couldn’t be making this 600$ a day as he claims, unless he had an agreement with multiple clerks in multiple stores!