All Hail the MIT Lottery Scammers

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The night before the Patriots took on the Eagles in Superbowl 39, MIT student James Harvey had a surefire way to make some money. But he wasn’t betting on the home team. Over the course of a few weeks, he’d discovered that he could beat Cash Winfall, then the state’s most popular lottery game, if he timed his buys right. He convinced 20 of his dorm mates to each pitch in $50 bucks. After a drawing a few days later, that $1,000 became $3,000.

Due to a quirk in the way the game works, Harvey found that if he waited until a $2 million jackpot drawing passed with no winner, a large amount of the prize jackpot would filter down to winners who matched four or five numbers, rather than all six. Of course, that assumed that no one would hit the jackpot. But drawings went without jackpots, 98.6 percent of the time, which made it a good bet. The result: Harvey discovered for every dollar he spent, he could expect to get $1.15 back.

That’s a small margin, but he had a sure thing. So the operation grew. Harvey incorporated Random Strategies Investments, LLC (named after his MIT dorm) and eventually consolidated a buying syndicate that would purchase 300,000 $2 tickets.

According to what he told the Massachusetts Inspector General (that’s where all this info is coming from), the biggest headache of his system was finding places to actually place his large volume bets (running hundreds of thousands of tickets can tie up an employee for hours), filling out each betting slip by hand (computer generated slips are illegal), and correcting for other variables like weather (if it was too humid, the machines could jam), among others. “It was a grind,” Harvey said.

Harvey kept up the scheme for seven years, earning at least $3.5 million, according to the Inspector General. He went from driving a 1999 Chevy Corsica to a 1999 Nissan Altima. Not exactly a baller ride, but good enough to transport hundreds of thousands of tickets to and from the convenience stores he frequented and collect his 15 cents on the dollar.