Action News Jax Investigates: How some people make a killing with scratch-off tickets

By: Paige Kelton, Action News Jax

Updated:

The Florida Lottery's luckiest players may have an inside edge.

An Action News Jax investigation uncovers many people who make money -- a lot of money -- in the risk-reward game of scratch-off tickets. 

Lottery players in Northeast Florida have won more than $106 million on scratch-off tickets in the last two and a half years. (CLICK TO SEE THE LIST OF NORTHEAST FLORIDA LOTTERY WINNERS)

Action News Jax analyzed repeat winners -- and found a pattern.

Some of those lucky people bought their tickets at same location, but they weren't just customers. We found multiple members of a Jacksonville family won $36,000 in scratch-off tickets at a Southside Smokers Plus.


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That same family owns several lottery retailers in Jacksonville.

According to the lottery, the owner of Sam’s Discount Beverage on Beach Boulevard won more than $29,000 in the last two and a half years.

Those winners don't hold a candle to a convenience store in Columbia County, where the owners won a whopping $66,000.

The owner's secret? 

“Nothing secret, you know," the owner said. 

Lottery records show that, in July 2014, the Columbia County store had its license to sell tickets suspended on suspicion of ticket brokering. An investigation by the Florida Lottery’s Division of Security cleared the owners of any wrongdoing and they were reinstated in Sept. 2014.

So what are your odds of winning that much on scratch-off tickets? We asked Scott Hochwald, chair of the University of North Florida’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics.  


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"Winning in scratch off, you can do that pretty effectively if you buy the whole roll of tickets," Hochwald said. "Who buys the whole roll of tickets? Well, the people who own the stores." 

Paige Kelton asked the Columbia store owner: "How many scratchers do you buy on average per week? 

His answer? “It depends. A roll here or there. Something like that."  

According to the Florida Lottery, it's not against the law for a retailer to play the lottery, but "The Florida division of security examines winners, both retailers and non-retailers, who have a significant number of claims on a routine basis." 

Through a public records request, we discovered out of 13,004 lottery retailers statewide, 55 have been terminated for integrity issues, including one store in Yulee for “ticket theft.” (CLICK TO SEE THE FULL LIST OF TERMINATIONS)
 
Right now, another 18 retailers are suspended from selling lottery tickets including one Jacksonville store. The reason listed? “Ticket brokering.”  (CLICK TO SEE THE FULL LIST OF SUSPENSIONS)

When asked if there anything players can do to increase your odds of winning on scratchers, Hochwald replied:   "If you buy the roll, then you will get one of these 1,000 winners. The question is, how much do you pay for the whole roll?"

The Florida lottery tells Action News Jax it is legal for you can buy an entire roll of scratch off tickets. Naturally, the cost depends on the game you play.

Questions asked the Florida Lottery: 

1.  What regulations or rules are there for retailers or their employees purchasing tickets?

There is no Florida Statute that prohibits Florida Lottery retailers or their employees from purchasing Lottery tickets. However, the Florida Lottery’s Division of Security examines winners, both retailers and non-retailers, who have a significant number of claims on a routine basis.

2.     Are retailers and their employees treated just like anyone else who can purchase a ticket?

Yes.

3.     Has the state ever dropped a business for inappropriate actions concerning ticket sales?

The Florida Lottery’s Division of Security, in cooperation with the Lottery's Office of Inspector General, has developed a Retailer Integrity program that involves Lottery agents visiting and testing Lottery retailers using winning Lottery tickets to ensure the retailers are properly paying prizes to players on winning Lottery tickets and are compliant with Lottery retailer rules and procedures.

In those occasions when tickets were not correctly processed for payment and an attempt was made to steal a player's winnings, store personnel have been arrested and the retailers' contracts have been suspended and/or terminated. For more information about our Retail Integrity program, visit our website at: http://www.flalottery.com/integrity   

The Florida Lottery does not tolerate fraudulent activity by our players or retailers. The Florida Lottery's Division of Security works diligently to identify and take action against criminal behavior and remains committed to holding its retailers to the highest standards.

4.     Do business owners receive a bonus on big winner Scratch-Off tickets?

Yes, retailers who sell winning Scratch-Off tickets of $1 million or more receive a bonus commission of $2,000 per $1 million in prize money claimed. For more information about retailer incentives, visit our website at: http://www.flalottery.com/retailers

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