The jackpot-fixing scandal that rocked the lottery organization behind Powerball has done little to hold back interest in the game.
In fact, with the jackpot soaring to record-breaking levels — it rose to $800 million Friday, the biggest lottery prize in U.S. history, and could reach even higher before Saturday’s drawing — Powerball hysteria is sweeping the United States.
The Virginia Lottery alone expects to sell 6.9 million Powerball tickets on Saturday, a spokesman told The Washington Post, adding that during peak times — between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. — the commonwealth probably will sell tickets at a rate of 13,800 per minute.
“Sales,” a California State Lottery spokesman said, “are going crazy right now.”
Powerball sales are soaring despite a scandal that rocked the organization that runs the game — a five-year-old investigation into jackpot fixing in one state that grew to include at least four others.
In the end, a Multi-State Lottery Association security expert was convicted of fraud and sentenced to a decade in prison, and the man who had run Powerball since it began was quietly put on leave.
Here’s a rundown of the scandal that has been all but forgotten in the wake of Powerball fever.
What caused suspicion
In December 2010, a man walked into a Quik Trip convenience store on Des Moines’ north side and bought what would become the winning ticket in a Hot Lotto draw with a $16.5 million jackpot, according to court documents.
The prize was unclaimed for nearly a year. In November 2011, a Canadian man contacted the Iowa Lottery claiming to be the winner. A month later, he said he was not the winner himself, but represented the anonymous winner. Later that month, a New York lawyer came forward to claim the prize for a Belize-based trust. No one involved could provide the basic details of the winner, information required by Iowa law. Eventually, the attorney withdrew the claim to the jackpot and the money went back to the states where the tickets were sold.
So what happened?
Investigators never gave up on the curious case and, three years later, released surveillance footage of a hooded man buying the winning ticket in the hopes that someone would recognize him. Several people identified him as Edward Tipton, Multi-State Lottery Association’s former security director.
Tipton was charged with fraud almost exactly one year ago, on Jan. 15, 2015. Investigators argued that Tipton was able to secure the winning ticket for himself through self-destructing software he installed on lottery computers, according to the Des Moines Register. Tipton then allegedly filtered the ticket through a friend in Texas.
Ultimately, he was found guilty of two counts of fraud last July and sentenced to 10 years in prison last September.
The investigation expands
In October, investigators alleged that Tipton also rigged a $4.8 million jackpot in Colorado in 2005 and a $2 million jackpot in Wisconsin in 2007. They have also investigated alleged rigging in Kansas and Oklahoma.
After the investigation was expanded nationwide in early October, Multi-State’s executive director Charles Strutt — who had run Powerball since it was created — was quietly placed on indefinite administrative leave, according to the Associated Press. Strutt hopes to return to the job when the Tipton case ends.
Tipton denies the allegations that he abused his position and is facing a second trial this month.
Despite the fixing scandal, the highly regulated games are on the level, lottery officials insist.
A Pennsylvania Lottery spokesman said his state’s lottery “has developed high-standard protocols, which are modeled by lotteries across the United States and around the globe. By aggressively protecting the integrity of drawings, players are assured the fair outcome they expect and deserve.”
“I think everyone would agree that the processes and procedures that are used to conduct these games, wherever they are, have been examined and the games are safe and secure everywhere,” Jeff Anderson, president of the Multi-State Lottery board of directors, said recently.