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Did a group of Princeton graduates figure out a secret to winning lotto scratch tickets?

TORONTO — At least four Princeton University graduates have won millions of dollars by purchasing thousands of scratch and win tickets in the U.S., according to a news report that tracked their winnings over the last year and a half and across multiple states.

Earlier this month, an Indianapolis Star investigation reported on the unusual lotto winnings of Manuel Montori and at least three other young alumni from Princeton who are all connected to an entity founded by Montori called Black Swan Capital LLC.

According to the report, the group has won more than US$6 million combined from Indiana, Missouri, Washington and the District of Columbia, and could have potentially spent more than US$2 million purchasing thousands of scratch tickets from stores, gas stations, and other lottery kiosks across the far flung corners of one state alone.

“I would guess they spent an awful lot more than that, on the assumption that they are actually playing on the up and up,” Philip Stark, a professor of statistics at University of California at Berkeley, told CTV’s News Channel Thursday.

The most popular theory is that the group’s actions are based on a common strategy of looking at public records for data on lottery winnings, ticket sales, and unclaimed prizes to determine when to best purchase a ticket, and increasing their odds of winning with bulk purchases.

“If you think about it, if you buy every ticket to a scratcher game, you’re guaranteed to win all the prizes,” Stark said.

“They might be able to increase their odds by keeping track of what prizes have been claimed and which ones haven’t and starting to buy tickets only when there is a disproportionate number of big, unclaimed prizes.’

But Stark cautioned this strategy is not without risks, as they are trusting that no one else has bought the winning tickets and won’t buy those tickets while they are still trying to collect the rest. He pointed to Indiana, in particular, where the Indianapolis Star reported the group spent $48,000 to buy 1,600 tickets from one location alone, going back repeatedly until the game sold out. Given how many other places they visited across the state for this particular scratch game and how much the winning pot was worth, it was possible the group lost money on that particular effort, the paper speculated.

Still, a similar effort in Missouri appeared to have paid off, netting the group a big, US$5 million windfall, according to the report. A US$1 million prize was collected on behalf of Black Swan.

Despite the unusual circumstances, lottery experts and statisticians have told the media there is nothing to indicate anything illegal or suspicious was happening.

“Based on what we’ve heard so far, there’s nothing fishy going on. There’s nothing wrong with keeping track of public records of what prizes have been claimed,” Stark said.

“Where things would get illegal or at least unethical is if they’ve figured out some way to tell without actually scratching off the scratcher which ones are winners.”

The group has not spoken publicly so far about what they are doing, though member Zoe Buonaiuto did tell the paper to “call back in a year” and that whatever they were doing was “exciting.”

A woman scratches a $30 instant ticket while playing the lottery at Ted’s Stateline Mobil on Wednesday, June 24, 2020 in Methuen, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

At least four Princeton graduates have won millions of dollars by purchasing thousands of scratch and win tickets in the U.S., according to a news report that tracked their winnings over the last year and a half and across multiple states.