Odds of Scratching Out a Win Often Are Zero, Player Asserts in Filing

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

RICHMOND, June 9 -- Scott Hoover, a professor at Washington and Lee University, is the kind of guy who gets a thrill out of trying to beat the Virginia Lottery.

Last summer, Hoover got a tip from a friend that, based on information on the state lottery's Web site, his odds of winning the $75,000 grand prize for the "Beginners Luck" scratch-off game had improved. Data showed there were still lots of available grand prizes, even though a fair number of tickets had been sold.

Hoover didn't win. But he didn't just toss the ticket. He launched his own investigation to figure out what the chances were that his ticket could have been a grand-prize winner. After sending public information requests to the Virginia Lottery, Hoover said he crunched the numbers and got his answer: zero.

Hoover, who teaches business courses, including statistics, alleges that he had no chance of winning the grand prize with his ticket. On Monday, he filed a claim against the Virginia Lottery, alleging it has collected tens of millions of dollars in revenue from people who bought scratch-off tickets that had no chance of winning the top prize.

In the claim, which is a legal notice that he intends to file a class-action lawsuit, Hoover says Virginia failed to abide by its policy of removing instant lottery tickets from the shelves once all the grand prizes have been distributed. Essentially, he says, the lottery misled the public into believing that the grand prizes could still be won.

"Over the years, the Virginia lottery has marketed and sold tickets to Virginia consumers by promising that each ticket purchase brings some chance of winning the game's top prize," John P. Fishwick Jr., Hoover's attorney, said in a statement. "However, the state has intentionally broken this promise, by our estimates, about 26.5 million times over the last five years."

John Hagerty, a Virginia Lottery spokesman, declined to comment on the claim but said that "the Virginia Lottery stands by the integrity of its games."

Fishwick and Hoover note in their legal filing that lottery policy states that "when a player presents a winning scratcher for the last remaining prize, the Lottery notifies retailers, within approximately one business day, to cease the sales of the game."

Hoover said he bought his Beginners Luck ticket Aug. 1. Through the public information request, Hoover said he confirmed that his ticket came from the first batch of 66,000 issued to retailers for the game. But Hoover also determined that the last grand-prize ticket was sold July 24, more than a week before he bought his ticket.

"They were enticing me to win up to $75,000, but there was absolutely no chance," Hoover said.

Concerned this was a broad pattern with scratch-off games, Hoover and Fishwick then issued a new round of information requests for 60 other scratch-off games.

Hoover and Fishwick estimate that the state has made $84 million since 2003 from tickets that were sold after all grand prizes were distributed.

Although he declined to comment on the allegations, Hagerty said in a statement that the Virginia Lottery "worked hard over the past 20 years to successfully build a reputation for integrity in the way our games are presented."

"We are confident that all Virginia Lottery games comply with the expectations of our players, the regulations of the Lottery and the laws of the Commonwealth," he said.

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