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An attempt to corner the Virginia Lottery 20 years ago paid off for a group from Australia

The group purchased more than 5 million tickets, including the winning number

March 30, 2012|Joe Dashiell | Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. — Imagine if you could guarantee a win in Friday night's Mega Millions drawing. The odds make that virtually impossible, but a drawing two decades ago was a different story.
 
In 1992, the Virginia lottery was just a few years old, and a $27 million jackpot was a big deal.

During the second week of February, people were lining up to buy tickets

"They told me it's just a lot, 25 million or something like that, so I just decided to play," one customer told WDBJ7.  "Yeah, I'm just hoping I'll be lucky this time. I'm usually not, but I thought it was worth a shot," said another.

As tickets sales climbed, lottery officials quickly realized that something else was up.

Mark Merritt was with the Virginia Lottery.  "We became a little suspicious when we saw retailers that normally do a certain amount of sales, do 5 or 6 times that amount in one day, that they might do in one week."

The winning ticket was sold on Valentines Day at a Farm Fresh supermarket in Chesapeake.
   
There were 7 million possible combinations in the Pick 6 game, and a group from Australia managed to buy more than 5 million, including the winning number.

"I would certainly loved to have had that one little ticket that they hadn't bought," Governor Doug Wilder said at the time,  "and that little ticket was the winning number, I could say I told y'all."

The lottery ultimately paid the winning ticket.  Immediately, lottery officials and players were considering changes to the game.
   
Milton Lyon spoke to the Lottery Board.  "We cannot let this lottery get to the point where it is controlled by several millionaires or a couple of corporations with no thought or regard to the little man."

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The Lottery did make changes to discourage large block purchases. For example, the play slips that are entered into lottery terminals must now be filled out by hand. There are rules governing purchases over $10,000, and retailers cannot block out terminals to service a single large customer.

Today, the biggest deterrent might be the logistics. The Australian syndicate purchased 5 million combinations 20 years ago. For Friday's Mega Millions drawing they would have to purchase more than 175 million.

   

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