Gambling in Virginia

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Last week I wrote about various legislation that might be considered during the 2019 Session dealing with casinos and other gambling opportunities. However, before we act on others, we probably should consider some changes as to how we deal with the lottery we already have.


Releasing the name of winners has been discussed. Considering that the South Carolina winner of $1.6 billion did not have to be identified to the public, why should a Virginian be required to subject to such notoriety, as long as he pays the proper taxes on his winnings? I know of no reason that Virginia should make known to the public who lottery winners are.


Peter Coutu of the Virginian-Pilot did an investigative story that exposed the fact that several retailers of lottery tickets have won many times in the last several years, at a rate that makes them not richer, but luckier than the $1.6 billion winner.

One retailer in Hampton cashed roughly 140 lottery tickets worth at least $600 each, adding up to more than $400,000 in winnings, according to state lottery claims data. A Ruther Glen retailer cashed 207 tickets, worth more than $800,000 in total. Between 2008 and 2016, 92 people won at least 50 tickets worth $600 or more apiece, according to data from the Virginia Lottery. Coutu examined more than 280,000 lottery ticket claims and interviewed authorities on the subject – including a security specialist and a mathematics professor who studies lottery odds – in an effort to shed light on the winning streaks.

Virginia is one of only 10 states that does not systematically monitor frequent winning, according to a survey done by PennLive, a Pennsylvania newspaper.

While there is some chance that some lottery retailers are extremely lucky, it appears more likely that something else is happening, most of which is illegal.

According to Coutu, “Some have been arrested for ‘microscratching’ tickets, which identifies winning plays before scratch-offs are sold, stacking the deck against players by only selling losing tickets. In other cases, retailers or employees have lied to people trying to claim a winning ticket. They either say the ticket is not a winner or pay out less than what the person is owed and then redeem it themselves for the full amount.”

Another problem may be cashing tickets for others who might owe back taxes or child support. In those cases, the winner may agree to a lesser payout from the retailer who then claims the full amount of the winnings. This is illegal in Virginia because it cheats the state and their own children.

The lottery department is working on this issue, but we must be vigilant in assuring those who play that everything is properly managed.


Thankfully, despite some problems with the state Department of Elections in past years, Virginia’s electoral folks are worlds ahead of those in some other states. There was a problem in Hopewell this fall but when the whistle was blown on election officials, they were removed from office quickly for not following proper protocol. Not so in Florida, where election officials are elected not appointed. There, each county can apparently ignore state policy with no penalty for doing so. Once again, the same people who were taken to court for destroying ballots to prevent inspectors from looking at them, are now possibly trying to slip in thousands upon thousands of ballots in the middle of the night. We must never give citizens reason to fear that the electoral process has been corrupted.

Frank Ruff represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.