WRAL Investigates

Undercover officers catch store clerks keeping winning lottery tickets

Posted April 24

— A man walks into a convenience store and asks the clerk to check his lottery tickets. “Can you scan these and see if there are any winners?” he asks. The clerk scans the first ticket and freezes, staring at the screen that shows it’s a $1,000 winner. The clerk shakes his head, puts the ticket to the side and tells the customer, “There’s nothing on them.”

Undercover video: Ellenboro store clerk keeps winning ticket Undercover video: Ellenboro store clerk keeps winning ticket

What the clerk doesn’t know is that the customer is an undercover officer wearing a hidden camera, which captures the entire scene, including the clerk quickly knocking the winning ticket off the counter onto the floor.

This scene played out Dec. 3, 2010, at a convenience store in Rutherford County. The clerk, Michael Mace, was later arrested when he tried to cash in the $1,000 ticket at a claims office. He was given 24 months’ probation.

Since 2009, the North Carolina Education Lottery has teamed up with local authorities for what they call a “Player Protection Campaign,” aimed at caching cheating lottery clerks.

The undercover officers use special lottery tickets, designed to mimic a winning ticket when it is scanned at a lottery terminal. The clerk is supposed to tell the undercover officer posing as a lottery player that the ticket is a winner and that the prize must be claimed at a lottery office.

Retailers who take customers’ winning tickets can face a Class H felony charge of attempting to obtain property by false pretenses. During the lottery's latest investigation, which lasted 14 months and ended this past March, seven people were arrested, including two in Wake County.

The North Carolina Education Lottery sells, on average, about 2.2 million tickets each day at more than 6,700 retailers across the state. As the lottery’s director of security, Moe McKnight has a lot of games, store owners and clerks to keep an eye on.

“We just want to make sure the players have an enjoyable experience,” he said. “They trust the system. They feel confident in the security and safeguards that we have in place.”

McKnight shared two of the undercover videos with WRAL Investigates, including the one that captured Mace taking the $1,000 winning ticket. The second video was shot at a Charlotte convenience store on Dec. 9, 2009.

Undercover video: Charlotte store owner keeps winning ticket Undercover video: Charlotte store owner keeps winning ticket

“I’d like to check these tickets,” the undercover officer tells the clerk.

“Nothing,” the clerk says, after scanning the tickets.

“None?” the officer asks. “Are you sure?”

“None,” the clerk responds. “No winners.”

Store owner Dipak Rajpuria pleaded guilty in the case. He received probation and lost his license to sell lottery tickets.

North Carolina Education Lottery officials terminate the lottery operations at any store where the owner was charged, and they suspend lottery operations at stores where an employee is charged. Stores are not allowed to resume ticket sales if the clerk charged with attempted fraud is still an employee there.

Raleigh store owner and lottery retailer Steve Byers says he knows the prospect of cashing in can test clerks’ morals. He makes sure his employees play by the rules, for his sake and the customers’.

“It’s something you have to keep on top of, something you have to manage, because there’s a lot of money involved, a lot of possibilities for things to go wrong, a lot of temptations,” he said. “There’s no limit to the potential of abuse that can happen with this type of thing.”

To help combat the problem, lottery officials are deploying scanners across the state, which allow customers to check tickets by themselves. While winners are obvious on some scratch-off tickets, that’s not the case in all games. Some require game knowledge beyond matching some numbers or symbols.

Lottery officials suggest players educate themselves and check for themselves. Also, players should sign the back of their tickets as soon as they get them to show ownership.

47 Comments

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  • thefensk Apr 25, 4:34 p.m.

    videos from 5 and 6 years ago? Must be a slow news day.

  • iopsyc Apr 25, 2:25 p.m.

    Best way to counter this would be for the lottery machines to instantly print out a receipt on a... View More

    — Posted by joanneg73

    Just to play devil's advocate.....that would work until a clerk decided not to put receipt paper... View More

    — Posted by iopsyc

    If there is no receipt paper in it then the machine will not work period, it will give you a pro... View More

    — Posted by joanneg73

    Good information. Thanks.

  • ncouterbanks69 Apr 25, 1:23 p.m.

    Our "justice" system is everything but. Probabtion for a thief?????????? You have to be kidding me.

  • Obamacare returns again Apr 25, 12:42 p.m.

    Time to make all lottery transactions online. No more clerk to steal your winnings.

  • thomasew52 Apr 25, 11:22 a.m.

    Always somebody trying to cheat another person out of something in this world.

  • horsyset Apr 25, 11:21 a.m.

    I only buy and redeem lottery tickets at the Food Lion at Creedmoor Crossing. Everything is clean, bright, and out in the open and you can clearly see the screens. Have been playing the lottery since it started and have had no problems. I guess people are too lazy to check the lottery website themselves to see if they have a winning ticket. The self-service scanner would be handy and hope to see those soon.

  • joanneg73 Apr 25, 11:13 a.m.

    Best way to counter this would be for the lottery machines to instantly print out a receipt on a... View More

    — Posted by joanneg73

    Just to play devil's advocate.....that would work until a clerk decided not to put receipt paper... View More

    — Posted by iopsyc

    If there is no receipt paper in it then the machine will not work period, it will give you a prompt that its out of order until its fixed. (I've dealt with Lottery Machines in another Country and if I remember correctly, this is what they did.)

  • busyb97 Apr 25, 11:00 a.m.

    But are these SCRATCH off tickets, or the powerball type tickets?? Scratch off tickets would be obvious to YOU the ticket-holder if it was a winner, yes? But the type of number-games in which you match certain numbers to the balls drawn, determines winners...if you get X-number of balls correct, etc. I thought that those were the tickets they were lying to the customer about (because you wouldn't truly know for sure- especially if you have to ask the clerk to tell you).

    I wonder if the officials noticed a pattern of the same people coming in with these winning tickets- the same clerks over and over.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Apr 25, 11:00 a.m.

    I personally don't care if they were doing this or not. It has exactly ZERO bearing on me. I have NEVER bought a lottery ticket in my life. And I don't intend to start.

  • 68_dodge_polara Apr 25, 10:31 a.m.

    No surprise here, gambling is a slimy business that attracts crime and criminals

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