| | Big bet KO'd: Lottery nixes man's bid to buy 7 million tickets
by Elisabeth J. Beardsley
Friday, November 14, 2003
A deep-pocketed mystery man from Chicago tried to bet an odds-skewing $7 million on the Mass Millions numbers game this week after Lottery officials opened the door by helping him buy 60,000 of the dollar tickets just last week.
Lottery officials furiously backpedaled yesterday, refusing to release the man's identity even as they admitted they have no idea where his cash came from - raising fears among lawmakers that a mobster or drug kinpin may be trying to launder money through the Lottery.
``I'm worried about where that kind of money comes from,'' said state Rep. George N. Peterson (R-Grafton). ``There aren't a lot of people who walk around with a cashier's check for $7 (million) to $10 million in their pockets.''
The Lottery eventually turned down the huge request and Lottery Director Joseph C. Sullivan, while admitting the $60,000 bet struck officials as ``unique,'' said Lottery policies do not require special actions for such a large bet.
``We financially, legally followed all procedures,'' Sullivan said. ``We're looking at whether or not we have to institute a policy.''
The trouble began last Thursday, when the mystery man walked into the Lottery's Braintree headquarters and asked to buy $60,000 worth of ``quick picks'' for that night's Mass Millions drawing, Lottery officials confirmed.
The man offered a $60,000 cashier's check, which Lottery officials verified was legitimate and promptly turned into 60,000 tickets - producing $6,000 worth of winners, sources say.
Lottery officials acknowledged that, over the ensuing six days, the man raised the specter of buying between 7 million and 10 million tickets for last night's drawing.
After laying the groundwork to accept the man's massive second wager in the wake of the first outlay, Sullivan said agency officials got cold feet and called off the bet.
Had the man been allowed to purchase 7 million tickets, he would have cornered half of the game's possible number combinations - boosting his chances of hitting the $38.9 million jackpot to 50-50, compared to the 1 in 14 million odds for a single-ticket player.
``The Lottery exists for all its players,'' Sullivan said. ``One player seeking to potentially buy a jackpot goes against the spirit of our mission.''
Sullivan refused to release the man's name or whether he has any financial backers, saying only, ``He wishes not to be identified.''
With staff discussions underway over what to do, the Lottery on Wednesday canceled an agent training session to free up a roomful of game terminals at Lottery headquarters, as a ``precautionary'' measure in case they needed to key in millions of tickets for the man, Sullivan said.
While trying to downplay the massive potential bet as a ``hypothetical,'' Sullivan defended his decision to make preparations for accepting the wager - which was called off Wednesday night.
``A request, no matter how unusual it may be, needs to be considered,'' Sullivan said.
In the end, Lottery officials said they gave the man a list of the state's 7,300 agents and told him to buy the tickets individually.
State lawmakers were flabbergasted that the agency would take $60,000 in one fell swoop at all - let alone mull a bet as high as $10 million.
Wall Street gets suspicious and conducts a thorough vetting when somebody tries to buy a huge number of stocks, said Peterson, a regular Lottery player.
Officials put the man through a ``thorough background check,'' which Sullivan defined as verifying the validity of his driver's license and cashier's check.
Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill said through a spokeswoman he agrees with the Lottery's decision to accept the $60,000.
A cashier's check is the most secure form of payment the Lottery accepts, and banks that issue such checks for more than $10,000 report it to the IRS, spokeswoman Karen Sharma said.
``The treasurer is comfortable that this is not money laundering,'' Sharma said, acknowledging, however, that Treasury officials have not conferred with the IRS.
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