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A Stanford statistician won the lottery an unprecedented four times (via Daily Mail).Joan Ginther, 63, won almost $21 million since her winning spree began in 1993. At the time that she won the fourth jackpot, the AP wrote that her chances of winning the lottery was 1 in 18 septillion, (18 with 24 zeros after it) almost an impossibility.
Or was it? As we reported recently, the lottery is not always a pure game of chance if you are smart. A recent article in Harpers by Nathaniel Rich contends that Ginther’s case can just be dumb luck, but fraud and cheating are much more likely.
The last two winning scratch offs were bought from the same convenience store in Ginther’s home town of Bishop, Texas. The peculiarly lucky store was shut down this past June, allegedly due to an IRS investigation involving Ginther and the proprietor, Sun Bae.
Ginther was once a university professor. She holds a Ph.D. in statistics from Stanford University. Rich found ways that Ginther could have used publicly available information to look for patterns that could lead her to figuring out the pseudo-random computer algorithm that determines when and where the winning tickets in each packet would arrive.
“Once she discovered a pattern, Ginther would have had to wait until a winning ticket was scheduled to show up in a sparsely populated region–the less competition for that winning ticket, the better. It would be crucial to pick a place that she had reason to visit, such as Bishop and the surrounding towns. It would also be helpful if the store owner held the tickets for her.”
In Rich’s reporting, Bishop residents have noticed that the store was holding the shipments of high-stakes scratch-offs. Ginther now lives in Las Vegas, but allegedly spends two months out of every year at Bishop’s only motel playing scratch offs.