Auditor General Eugene DePasquale

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale holds a press conference Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, at Pitt-Johnstown Living & Learning Center on a performance audit of the Greater Johnstown School District, Cambria County, raising questions about the district's financial challenges and problematic hiring practice.

HARRISBURG – Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is launching a review to determine whether the state’s Lottery is doing enough to ensure that frequent winning players are extra lucky and not crooked.

DePasquale said he recognizes that the Pennsylvania Lottery was at the center of the infamous 1980 “Triple Six Fix” rigged number draw scandal. The decision to audit the Lottery now was inspired by more recent cases, though.

That included a Massachusetts case in which an 80-year-old man allegedly cashed in 7,300 winning tickets worth $11.3 million over a six-year period.

In the 1980 Pennsylvania case, which inspired the 2000 movie "Lucky Numbers," the daily number announcer, Nick Perry, masterminded a plan to fix the draw.

In the Massachusetts case, an 80-year-old man named Clarence Jones was arrested in 2018 on charges alleging he arranged a scheme where Lottery winners who don’t want to report the earnings would sell their winning tickets for 80-90 percent of their value, and Jones would then cash them in, according to the Salem (Mass) News. Jones pleaded guilty earlier this year and was sentenced to two months in prison.

DePasquale said he has no reason to believe that there is similar fraud being perpetrated in Pennsylvania, but that his performance audit is aimed at determining what kinds of safeguards the Lottery has in place to prevent them.

“My goal is to protect older adults who rely on Lottery-funded programs,” DePasquale said. “If players or retailers are committing fraud, the Pennsylvania Lottery has an obligation to catch them and take action to protect the integrity of the Lottery Fund.”

DePasquale said the Lottery operators in other states have acted to crack down on fraudulent claims and I want to ensure that the Pennsylvania Lottery is doing everything possible to prevent and stop any fraud.”

The Lottery is a bureau in the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. The audit will evaluate the effectiveness of the department’s regulations, policies and procedures to prevent and monitor for fraud, abuse or other prohibited activity by lottery winners and retailers.

Lottery officials have met with the auditor general to discuss their existing protocols and will meet with him and his staff again “to make sure they have the necessary information to conduct a thorough audit,” said Jeffrey Johnson, a spokesman for the Department of Revenue.

“Last fiscal year, Pennsylvania Lottery players bought $4.5 billion in games and claimed more than $2.9 billion in prizes,” DePasquale said. “Seniors, lottery players and the general public deserve to know if every dollar of those prizes was claimed in accordance with the law.”

Johnson said that there haven’t been any repeats of the type of fraud that took place in the Triple Six Fix.

“No player has been able to gain an advantage through manipulation of our products or procedures like what occurred in 1980. There have been some instances where attempts have occurred,” he said.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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