With the odds of winning the lottery standing at roughly 1 in 175 million, it's challenging enough to make your play for the big money jackpots without tricksters and frauds lengthening the odds even more. But that's exactly what store clerks in the US state of Colorado have been doing - cheating the system, cashing in on other people's winnings and ruining one of the world's favourite pasttimes.
Every year in the USA, undercover lottery investigators carry out random compliance checks in order to stay on top of processes and operations, and weed out any potential scams. However more recently, these checks have taken the form of stings - between 300 and 600 a year to be precise - thanks to the illegal behaviour of a small group of cheating store clerks.
In order to catch these fraudsters in the act, investigators participate in undercover operations, posing as legitimate lottery players. They visit various stores with a handful of lottery tickets, some of which have been specially scanned to produce winning results, and hand them to the clerks to be checked.
Most of the time, the clerks will check the tickets correctly, and inform the "customers" that their tickets are lucky, usually for an amount up to $5,000. Occasionally, however, a dishonest clerk will indicate that the ticket is a losing one, and will send the "customer" on their way - only to cash the ticket themselves in an attempt to claim the prize money.
So far the sting operations have caught a number of clerks in the act - like Robert Adsit, a 7-Eleven store clerk in Colorado Springs. Last year Adsit was visited by an undercover operative with three scratch tickets - all of which Adsit claimed to be losers. The next morning, however, he was caught at a lottery office attempting to redeem one that had had actually been a $5,000 winner. When asked why he had taken the ticket from the customer without revealing the truth, his only defense was an insufficient "I don't know".
Similarly, Jesse Gunther from Southern Colorado was also caught in an identical sting, failing to tell a customer at the gas station where he worked that their ticket was a winner. He was also caught trying to redeem the $5,000 ticket for himself, and, unable to provide a suitable defense, later pleaded guilty.
While compliance checks such as these are carried out on a regular basis in order to protect the interests of law-abiding lottery players, officials admit that occasionally fraudsters do slip through the cracks. However they are quick to point out that the vast majority of clerks and retailers are honest - 98% of them in fact - and that only a small percentage go so far as to trick players out of their tickets.
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