Prison escapees and ingenious scam artists often draw our admiration. Break out of prison or make a run for freedom and most of us will be secretly sympathetic.

After all, if you were stuck in some godforsaken hole in upstate New York for the rest of your life, wouldn’t you try to run? If you were Whitey Bulger and knew the police were closing in, wouldn’t you grab your girlfriend, flee to California and live anonymously in Santa Monica?

Similarly, suppose you were stuck in a boring desk job, overseeing an obscure government department, writing code? Wouldn’t you dream of the big score, of some path to riches?

We all do.

I imagine how generous, charitable and beneficent I’d be if the lottery gods smiled upon me, and I somehow hit Powerball — or even Lotto.

I know, I know — with the odds of hitting the Powerball jackpot at 1 in 292 million, my chances aren’t just dim, but virtually nonexistent.

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The odds of winning the Colorado lottery, at 1 in 5.3 million, are a little better but it’s still a sucker bet.

Ask one of those pesky mathematicians/statisticians, and she’ll tell you that your chances of winning are not significantly less if you don’t buy a ticket at all, but rely on finding the winning ticket blowing down the street.

Yet so many folks (myself included) blow a few bucks on Lotto, MegaMillions or Powerball from time to time, especially when the progressive jackpots creep up to life-changing levels. The chance of winning might be slight, but it’s fun to dream.

I’m sure that Iowa resident Ed Tipton felt the same way. He dreamed of easy money from the lottery, but unlike the rest of us, he was in a position to do something about it.

In December 2010, Tipton, then the information security director of the Multi-State Lottery Association bought a winning $14.3 million “Hot Lotto” ticket. He waited for nearly a year to cash it, using an out-of-town attorney as his proxy. Unfortunately for him, a co-worker had seen him buying the ticket at a local gas station, and surveillance video confirmed his presence in the store.  He didn’t get the cash, and got sentenced to 10 years in the slam last January.

And that was that … or was it?

Tipton apparently rigged the game using a USB flash drive to insert a self–deleting program into the random number generator that the MUSL provided to Hot Lotto operators. Was that the only game he had rigged?

Nope. The MUSL supplies RNG (random number generator) chips to many state lotteries. Authorities continued their investigation, and filed more charges against Tipton last week.

On Nov. 23, 2005, an individual linked to Tipton claimed a $4.8 million Lotto jackpot, thereby dashing the dream of tens of thousands of Coloradans who bought tickets for that drawing. Another member of the Tipton ring cashed a big win in the Wisconsin lottery in 2007.

The news that the lottery had been rigged sent Colorado officials scrambling. In a seamlessly bureaucratic statement, lottery officials tried to spin the bad news

According to the press release, “The Colorado Lottery continues to be committed to ensuring the security and integrity of lottery products.

“We strive to ensure that Lottery games are fair and offer everyone an equal chance to win. The Colorado Department of Revenue and the Colorado Lottery are aware of this issue and have been working closely and collaboratively with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Iowa Bureau of Investigation, and the Pueblo District Attorney’s Office to investigate any allegations of wrongdoing.”

“Because this is an active and ongoing investigation, we will not comment to media inquiries except to say we are fully cooperating with authorities and our lottery counterparts in other states.”

It’s a pretty smooth response— nothing to worry about here, just keep playing the lottery.

But wait a minute, guys!

RNGs are at the heart of every gambling device in Colorado.

When you play a slot, a video poker terminal or a spinning, honking, vibrating Wheel of Fortune machine, an RNG controls payouts and payout ratios. When you pop a $20 bill into your favorite quarter slot, you’ve got a chance to win on every spin, and that chance remains the same on every spin.  It works the same with every electronic machine in every casino in the nation. But if the RNG has been hacked — or rigged in some way — then all bets are off.

We asked the Colorado Division of Gaming whether the tens of thousands of RNGs in gambling devices are secure. It’s important to note that the Division of Gaming does not administer the lottery, but both are part of the Colorado Department of Revenue. Their response? No comment.


  1. One of the reasons that government has so readily adopted and allowed lotteries and gambling is because the odds of winning the lottery, gambling or obtaining good service from government are exactly the same.

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