A state-run lottery to give Virginians first dibs on pricey whiskeys suffered from what was likely a human-induced flaw that wildly skewed the results, allowing several lucky participants to win multiple times.
How could it be, these bourbon drinkers wondered, that two entrants had won all four bottles in a single drawing of bottles of George T. Stagg Bourbon and other choice whiskeys, and 50 entrants had won three apiece?
Something seemed awry as the winners posted about their good fortune online or discussed it in online chats, said Gus Guimond, 30, a Chantilly resident who belongs to the “DMV Bourbon Drinkers” club on Facebook.
“We started to notice people saying, ‘Hey, I won two bottles,’” Guimond, who works in finance, said in an interview. “At first, we’re like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome. You’re so lucky.’ ”
But then it happened again.
“Now this is starting to get really, really unlikely,” Guimond said. “And so that was the biggest red flag.”
Guimond said the “Twilight Zone” odds against not just one but several people winning the lottery to buy multiple bottles almost broke his calculator. He figured it to be about 1 in a tredecillion. That’s 42 zeros.
“To put that into perspective, the chances of this happening is equivalent to finding a single atom in our entire solar system,” Guimond wrote in an email last week to the ABC.
In the interview, Guimond said records obtained under Virginia’s freedom of information law detailing its methods suggest that something had inadvertently gone wrong in the agency’s process of assigning each entrant a number in a spreadsheet and manually helping to randomize the entries — a supposition supported by the ABC’s review, too, a spokesman said.
“Virginia ABC has found no evidence of inappropriate administration of the lottery drawing, or intentional manipulation by staff or customers,” the ABC said in a statement. “Drawings were witnessed by a member of the authority’s internal audit division. A subsequent review by Internal Audit identified an issue in the sorting of the lottery entry data in our software. The manner in which the entries were sorted contributed to the statistically abnormal results.”
The ABC’s liquor lottery is intended to give Virginia residents a shot at buying liquors for a reasonable price that, on the open market, sometimes go for exorbitant sums. A fifth of George T. Stagg bourbon, which has been aged 15 years and retails in Virginia ABC stores for $99.99, can sell for as much as $1,482 elsewhere.
In addition to the Stagg bourbon, the ABC’s April lottery gave people a chance to buy Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye; William Larue Weller Bourbon; and Sazerac Rye, which is aged 18 years. All retail at the Virginia ABC for $99.99 per bottle. Previous lotteries included liquors such as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.
The ABC broke down the entries and the apparent odds as follows:
- 37,485 entries for 770 bottles of the George T. Stagg Bourbon, or a roughly 1 in 49 chance of winning;
- 35,828 entries for 286 bottles of Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, or a 1 in 125 chance of winning;
- 37,416 entries for 209 bottles of William Larue Weller Bourbon, or a 1 in 179 chance of winning;
- and 35,492 entries for 48 bottles of the Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old, or a 1 in 739 chance of winning.
ABC spokesman Pat Kane said additional steps had been added to the lottery’s procedures to try to remove any chance for error. He also said the agency was testing an electronic lottery system in its Management of Inventory and Product Sales system, to further reduce the possibility for introducing human error.
The electronic system already is in use for a parallel lottery among Virginia ABC licensees, such as bars and restaurants, that is intended to distribute prized liquors fairly, Kane said.