Amit and Nita Thakker are two of the luckiest people in Florida.
The Florida Lotto? They’ve won big cash three times.
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Staff writers Fedor Zarkhin and Pat Beall and researchers Michelle Quigley and Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.
Operated by: State of Florida
Secretary: Cynthia O’Connell, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011; former University of Florida trustee
Objective: Money for education
Payments to education: $26 billion, about 30 percent of all sales
How education money is spent: School recognition bonuses, Bright Futures scholarships
Palm Beach County’s schools got: $10.4 million in budget year 2014.
The rest: 61 percent to winners; 5 percent, retailers; 2 percent, vendors; the rest to administration.
Online: Tickets printed on lottery computer in stores; player picks a combination of numbers that match daily or weekly drawings.
Examples: Play 4, Fantasy 5, Mega Millions, Powerball.
Cost: $1 or $2.
Odds: Top prizes — 1 in 1,000 in Cash 3 to 1 in 258 million in Mega Millions.
Prize range: $500 to hundreds of millions.
Scratch-off games: Also known as “instant” games; players scratch off layer of wax on card to reveal if the ticket is a winner.
Examples: Monopoly, Bingo Gold, 50X the Cash
Cost: $1 to $25.
Odds: The more expensive the ticket, the better the odds; best odds are $25 “100X The Cash” game at 1 in 2.86, about a 35 percent chance of winning something.
Prize range: $1,000 to $5 million.
Ways to police lotteries
Florida’s lottery is the second largest in North America, yet it lags behind California and Ontario in some best practices for security:
Managing retail clerks - Ontario tracks all retail employees and won’t let them play at their own store. California and Ontario require winners to disclose whether they work for a retail store. Florida does neither.
Frequent winners - California and Ontario watch for frequent winners, a red flag for fraud. Ontario’s sophisticated software automatically alerts on improbable patterns.
Undercover stings - California Lottery agents pose as customers and ask store clerks to check their tickets. When the campaign started, 18 percent of clerks stole tickets. After arrests were publicized, the rate fell to 2 percent. Florida has done stings on fewer than 2 percent of retailers, with a theft rate of about 10 percent. It doesn’t publicize results.
Better equipment - Store clerk scan tickets for winners through a lottery terminal. In Florida, the terminals are behind the counter so only the clerk can see them. In Ontario, they chime to alert the winner. Florida has self-checking terminals in 54 percent of locations, but one lottery official estimated one in every 10,000 scans could miss a winning ticket.
When winners get the money - If you win a ticket worth between $600 and $250,000 in Florida, you can walk into a district office and leave with a check the same day. But if there’s a problem — a customer calls and says their ticket was stolen, for example — the lottery can’t recover the winnings. California and Ontario mail or deposit the winnings within a few weeks.
Lottery red flags
What lottery security experts look for when they track winners:
Frequent winners - Ninety-six percent of Florida’s winners of tickets worth $600 or more cash in tickets four or fewer times. The Post found about 200 who flout the odds, cashing in tickets 30 or more times.
Gaming variety — Winning one lottery game worth $600 or more is rare. Yet the most prolific winners win all kinds of games. Eight of the top 10 have won 25 or more different games. The top winner has won scratch-offs at every price point the lottery offers — $1, $2, $3, $5, $10, $20, $25 and $30 tickets.
Big losers — Would you spend $2.7 million to win $343,000 worth of lottery tickets? Mathematicians estimate Florida’s most prolific winners would lose between $137,200 and $2.4 million.
Multiple stores — Eight of the 10 most prolific winners have cashed in tickets sold from 30 or more stores. The same games are available at nearly every outlet. Most people stick with just a few stores.
Winning streaks — Half of the top 10 winners have no wins for more than a decade, then go on streaks. Unlike poker or blackjack, lottery odds are too poor to go on “hot streaks.”
Delayed gratification — If you won $5,000 in the lottery, how long would you wait to cash it in? Some top winners waited longer than most. Take Jose Mario Campos Pires, the last person to cash in his winning ticket from the June 2, 2007 Florida Lotto drawing. He waited 100 days for his $5,112.