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He had an unusual Washington Lottery strategy, but it paid off: $400,000

An advertising campaign for the Washington State Lottery.
An advertising campaign for the Washington State Lottery. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A Canadian man beat the odds – and arguably defied logic – by winning $400,000 from a Washington Lottery game that typically pays winners $10,000.

Thomas Grimme of White Rock, British Columbia, picked the four winning numbers for the Match 4 game on December 28, 2016 – something statisticians say is roughly a 1-in-10,600 chance.

But he didn’t pick those numbers on a single $2 ticket.

Rather, he bought 40 tickets at the Cost Cutter Grocery in Blaine, picking the same four numbers on all of them. When those four numbers were drawn, each ticket was worth $10,000, resulting in the biggest overall payout for a Match 4 game in the state’s history.

Statisticians say the odds of Grimme winning was the same for those four numbers whether he bought one ticket or 40.

“I don’t understand why you would do that,” Christian Hansen, professor and department chairman of Eastern Washington University’s Mathematics Department, said of using the same four numbers on 40 tickets. “It doesn’t really make much sense.”

He picked the wining numbers based on his children’s birthdays, and had been playing them for several months after receiving extra money from a relative.

Lottery players typically improve their odds by picking different numbers, Hansen said. If a person bought 40 tickets with different numbers chosen at random on each, the odds would be about 1 in 250 that one of the tickets would win.

Match 4 is one of the Washington Lottery’s most popular games, typically selling between 10,000 and 20,000 tickets a day, Jana Jones, the agency’s director of Legal Services, said. For $2, players can either pick their own four numbers between 1 and 24 or let a machine pick them at random. If they get two out of four, they get $2; three of four is worth $20. Unlike some bigger lottery games in which a jackpot is divided among players if more than one winning ticket is sold, Match 4 pays out $10,000 for every winning ticket that matches all four.

Before Dec. 28, the most winners the Lottery had in a single Match 4 game was 31 in June 2013, but 25 of those were on individual tickets, while one player had two and one player picked the same set of numbers five times. The winning numbers that day? 1-2-3-4.

On December 28, the Lottery had 42 winning tickets for Match 4 – 40 bought by Grimme and two by other players who each had a single winner. That prompted the Washington Lottery Commission’s security office to investigate what it considered an “abnormally high number” of wins before paying out the prize money.

Grimme couldn’t be reached for a comment on his unusual strategy. A phone number listed for him in White Rock, British Columbia, was answered by someone who said Grimme had moved and not left a forwarding address.

A report by investigator Derek Poppe said Grimme explained he picked the numbers – 4, 8, 17 and 24 – based on his children’s birthdays, and had been playing them for several months after receiving extra money from a relative. In the previous three months he had spent $8,250 on Match 4 tickets with those four numbers, often buying multiple tickets for a single daily game.

He told investigators he bought them at the store in Blaine because “it’s right across the border.” White Rock is south of Surrey, a few miles from the U.S. border. A check of sales from the Cost Cutter showed that someone had purchased multiple tickets at various times in the previous three months with those numbers.

Grimme didn’t answer some of the questions in the standard Lottery “Winner’s Survey,” such as what the money would allow him to do or what he could now check off his “bucket list.” He asked that the agency not share his photo.

The commission also checked the security of the machine that draws the numbers to be sure they were randomly drawn. “We have no reason to believe that the drawing machines were compromised or the numbers selected were predictable,” Poppe wrote.

Stephen Wade, research and development manager for the lottery, said the investigation convinced the agency there was “nothing fishy” about the win. “It’s just an unusual case,” Wade said.

Many people feel that if they play the same numbers consistently, they improve their chances of winning, he said. Statistically, they are just as likely to win with any combination.

But Grimme’s strategy provided a big pay off for his numbers and “we’re happy to pay it,” Wade said.

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