Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Government does it again

At the risk of sounding like a Libertarian in Jardinian Fashion, I'm going to ask a simple yet profound question:

Can government ever do anything right?

In addition to retailers claiming an inordinate number of lottery wins, CBC News has learned that Ontario's lottery corporation has also been battling problems related to instant scratch tickets.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if the BC tax for those who cannot do math Lottery Corporation were completely honest, they would admit to having the same problems. It seems amazing to me that such a huge cash cow for provincial governments would be so shabbily produced.

Last month it was revealed that in the past seven years Ontario clerks and retailers have claimed lottery victories nearly 200 times. University of Toronto statistician Jeffery Rosenthal said statistically the number should have been closer to 57, and was a statistical anomaly nearly impossible to achieve.

I'm not sure exactly what "game" this refers to, but I am assuming Lotto 6/49, as the big jackpot is not won very often.

OLG CEO Duncan Brown reiterated to CBC Tuesday night that the corporation has since put in new, more stringent security measures in place for all of its games.

"We're committed to doing better and we want to make sure that we retain that public trust," Brown said.

Our games are now completely foolproof... and this time we mean it!

Toronto statistician Mohan Srivastava also discovered a way the tickets could be decoded to predict a winner on the game "Tic Tac Toe" nearly three years ago.

Srivastava would look at the numbers on the ticket, and if a sequence of numbers was lined up in tic-tac-toe fashion and were not repeated anywhere else on the ticket, it was likely a winner.

After graduating high school, I took a job at the local 7-Eleven. I remember one customer in particular enjoyed playing the $3 crossword puzzles, but he had a system that at the time seemed quirky. He noticed that whenever the word "Zucchini" appeared on the ticket, it was never a winner. He also noticed this with certain city names like "Kamloops" that were printed on certain tickets. He would scan the ticket before paying for it to ensure he did not receive one with those words on it. Once, I heckled him for making such a big deal out of it. He told me to pay for one and scan it to see if it was a winner. Hoping to prove him wrong, I shelled out three loonies and scanned the ticket with word "Zucchini". Lo and behold, it was not a winner.

According to OLG documents, investigators looking into allegations of insider scratch ticket wins routinely checked for "pin-pricking," where a card is scratched very lightly to see if it contains a winning code.

It would have been exceptionally easy to do this sort of trickery when I worked in retail. The system in BC may be different now, but at the time all you needed to validate a ticket was three bold numbers, usually found in the corner of the "scratch 'n win" ticket. I can say with relative certainty that a majority of scratch ticket customers I dealt with were not aware of this, and would not notice if such a small section of their ticket were lightly scratched out.

"If someone explained the trick to you, I think, I actually know, a child could do it," Srivastava said.

Are you listening out there, provincial lottery corporations?