Joan Ginther tops many multiple winners in lottery history

Her four wins of \$2 million or more might be a record for an individual.

Lottery history is full of mind-boggling examples of winners winning again.

That's one reason the Texas Lottery never investigated Joan Ginther, who won \$5.4 million in a 1993 Lotto Texas drawing and then hit it big in three scratch-off games, \$2 million in Holiday Millionaire in 2006, \$3 million in Millions & Millions in 2008, and \$10 million in \$140,000,000 Extreme Payoff in 2010.

Still, the \$20.4 million she won tops not only cases involving seemingly normal players, it even beats examples involving crooks or master mathematicians.

An MIT group, for example, mined the Massachusetts lottery for seven years, and reportedly won \$3.5 million.

A large part of the explanation seems to be that Ginther bought an astonishing number of high-priced tickets, perhaps tens of thousands, making her chances of pulling off such a feat much, much shorter than the outlandish odds often quoted.

Part 1: "How Joan Ginther bought a flabbergasting number of tickets"

Part 2: "How lottery legend used odds, Uncle Sam to win millions"

Indeed, frequent ticket-buying is one reason multiple winners abound, experts say.

Given the tens of millions of people who buy billions of tickets, the thousands of people who win substantial windfalls, and the thousands of tickets those winners often buy, it's likely some winners would double up, two Harvard researchers once pointed out.

"With a large enough sample, any outrageous thing is apt to happen," they said.

That's for sure.

In drawings, a Canadian man won three jackpots totalling \$19.3 million, a Canadian couple won two jackpots worth \$18.7 million, and a Florida man scored two jackpots worth \$10.2 million at one 7-Eleven.

Even nuttier are cases of remarkable redundancy.

In 2008, a \$1.4 million jackpot in Wisconsin was by hit by four tickets, and all four belonged to the same couple.

A Hollywood, Fla., man successfully bet the same number 50 to 200 times in a single drawing, according to a Palm Beach Post series. He twice won \$1 million by placing 200 Play 4 bets on a variation of his birth year, winning \$5,000 for each bet.

In scratch-offs, a Florida man won \$9.5 million in two different games in six months, and a Missouri man won \$5 million in two different games in three months.

Generally, such winners, if they talk at all, mention hunches and dreams – and buying a lot of tickets.

"I've got no system. I just play in every game," said Seguro Ndabene, the \$19.3 million winner in Canada. He admitted buying hundreds of tickets a month.

On a single day in 2002, Angelo and Maria Gallina, of Belmont, Calif., hit two jackpots, one worth \$126,000, the other \$17 million. Angelo said he bought \$20 worth of tickets every day since 1985, spending about \$125,000.

Virginia's Melvyn Wilson won \$500,000 in 2004, \$1 million in 2005, and another \$500,000 in 2013, all from scratch-offs. "His strategy was to play every day," the Washington Post wrote. "You gotta play to win," he said.

Yet, as freaky as these cases are, Ginther stands apart.

We couldn't find another individual with three wins of \$2 million or more -- and she did it four times.

Her take even beats top cases of corruption, like Pennsylvania's infamous Triple Six Fix, the rigged 1980 Daily Number drawing, in which latex paint was apparently injected into all the numbered balls but the 4s and 6s, making them most likely to rise. (The case inspired the John Travolta-Lisa Kudrow film, Lucky Numbers.)

More recently, there's the case of the lottery official who cashed in 22,710 tickets. Remmele Mazyck, who worked for the Arkansas Lottery, collected nearly a half-million dollars from 2009 to 2012 by designating tickets as promotional giveaways then redeeming them at various stores. Mazyck got three years in prison.

Counting every size of prize, Ginther may have cashed even more winning tickets.

Ginther may belong to a very exclusive club: professional lottery players.

We're not talking about crooks and profiteers who wind up with other people's winning tickets, such as retailers who cheat customers out of prizes (\$12.5 million in Ontario, \$5 million in Syracuse, for example), ticket cashers who file claims for deadbeat dads and others shunning official scrutiny (like the Massachusetts individual who redeemed  1,492 tickets valued at \$2,588,761.50 in a single year), and criminals who buy up winning tickets to launder money.

We're talking people who use syndicates of investors to score when games get favorable.

From 2005 to 2012, four groups reportedly racked up profits of \$8 million by exploiting a flaw in Massachusetts' Cash WinFall game. Whenever a drawing reached \$2 million, lesser prizes got sweetened, so much so it made sense to buy the \$2 tickets as fast as cooperative retailers could print them.

A group led by MIT students James Harvey and Yuran Lu spent more than \$17 million and earned an estimated \$3.5 million, according to a Massachusetts report. Gerald and Marjoree Selbee, a Michigan couple, bought 60,000 to 360,000 tickets each time the game had a "roll down" – and that happened dozens of times. Wenxu Tong, who got his Ph.D. at Northeastern, formed a group that even benefited from the scheme's biggest risk – that someone might hit the jackpot. His group won nearly \$2.5 million. After Tong got out, some of his investors continued.

Note that Massachusetts officials, happy the game was profitable, ignored the situation until it was revealed by a Boston Globe investigation.

Even more ambitious was the International Lotto Fund, founded in Australia by Romanian mathematician Stefan Mandel. The syndicate reportedly won a dozen or so jackpots around the world, with its most famous triumph in 1992, when it scored \$27 million, plus more than \$600,000 in lesser prizes, playing Virginia Lotto. Teams of ticket buyers using computer-generated printouts worked round the clock with retailers to cover 5 million of the 7 million possible number combinations. Success was tempered, though, by the prize being paid out over 20 years, and by state and federal withholding of 30 percent.

In 1986, the group bought up all 3.8 million combinations in an Australian lottery but barely turned a profit because the jackpot had to be shared among 11 winners, according to the Associated Press.

Mandel, who said he wasn't invested in the Virginia effort, was declared bankrupt in 1995.

Even smart players depend on some luck.

More on "Lottery Legend" series

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.