The odds of winning the top prize in Florida’s Play 4 are one in 10,000, the same as your chances of ever being struck by lightning in the U.S.
So how did one person win it 568 times, collecting more than $2.8 million — in just 15 months?
The Palm Beach Post caught up with the man who has won more big lottery tickets than any person in the history of the Florida Lottery. He’s a bookish Hollywood engineer who talked about his wins on the condition that his name not be used.
He chalked up his status as the winningest Play 4 player in the past 20 years as simply dumb luck.
“It’s a fluke,” he shrugged. “I tell everybody to follow through with their numbers.”
On its surface, he might seem like the luckiest player in the state. But here’s his secret: He just bet a lot more than most people do.
He’s different from the lottery’s most prolific winners, who were measured by how often they cashed in tickets. Those winners, most of whom were store clerks, cashed in tickets 65 or more times. They’ve won all kinds of games, and the tickets come from dozens of stores.
The Hollywood man, on the other hand, cashed in tickets only 14 times in the same period. He won at only two stores. And he’s only won one game: Play 4.
The game is simple: Bet $1 and pick four numbers between 0 and 9. If the next drawing picks your numbers in order, you win $5,000.
You can bet multiple times on the same number, of course, and that’s what the Hollywood man did. The secret to his success, he said, was playing the year of his birth, 1951. Variations on those four numbers hit six times between January 2011 and March 2013.
Two of those times, he bought 200 or more tickets. At $5,000 a win, he walked out of the district office with a $1 million check. Twice.
He also played 100 times on Nov. 11, 2012, on number 4077. That meant a $500,000 check.
And he hit about 50 times on number 6251 on Dec. 6, 2011. That was a $250,000 prize.
The Post found that his style of play is unusual. Nobody else wins that much. Only five people have cashed in 100 or more Play 4 tickets at a time, and the Hollywood man is the only person to cash in 200 or more tickets at a time.
There are two potential explanations for his wins: dumb luck or the lottery is fixed, and there’s no evidence it’s fixed.
Unlike the 10 most prolific winners identified by The Post, even a mathematician agrees that this gambler is different. Skip Garibaldi, a professor at Emory University and associate director of the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at UCLA, calculated that the man could spend as little as $176,160 to have a one-in-a-million shot at winning so often.
That’s a long shot, but it’s still mathematically possible.
The man wouldn’t say how much he spent chasing his wins. He just sighed and said, “Too much.”
His amount of playing is taxing on the store clerks who have to fill his orders.
Hiral Patel, 28, has worked for two years at Tuzzo’s Circle News, on Hollywood Boulevard and Federal Highway.
He said the Hollywood man is a “nice guy” but plays so many tickets, it takes up to 10 minutes just to print them.
“It’s because of him that I’ve got two machines. I’ve got 10 customers waiting (while the Hollywood man’s tickets are printed),” he said. “I told my boss, ‘We need another machine.’”
In true gambler’s fashion, he’ll tip the store clerk when he wins. And like many gamblers, he asked to keep his name out of the news because he fears being targeted for his winnings.
The man said he’s always been fascinated by numbers, and 20 years ago a psychic told him, “I can’t tell you what, but something big is going to happen.”
That “big” thing was winning more big tickets than any person in the history of the Florida Lottery, apparently. He’s grateful she never told told him his fate.
“If she told me I was going to win, I would have played more money and probably gone broke.”
He said he actually stopped playing after his first $1 million win, on Feb. 4, 2013.
But then he realized that the same day of the week of that win fell exactly a month later, on March 4.
It was like an anniversary for his big win, he believed, so he decided to resume his playing that day.
He put down another $200 on the same number, 1951. Incredibly, it hit.
He hasn’t stopped playing since.