Gaming the game of chance?

Every day, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) holds a six-pick number game. And every day, a bettor out there hopes to win.

The dream of winning a life-changing amount of money draws people to buy lottery tickets. But recent issues have put into question the integrity of the state-run lottery and whether the game of chance has been gamed.

There was the case of the poorly edited photo of a woman who won the P43.8-million Lotto 6/42 jackpot last Dec. 28, which stirred a discussion online on whether there was a real winner or it was a set-up. PCSO admitted that the photo was doctored to hide the identity of the winner.

The criticisms over the photo threw doubts on the lottery system anew. In October 2022, PCSO was also questioned after 433 gamblers won the P236-million GrandLotto jackpot. While it was not impossible that 433 people placed their bets on the same winning combination, as statistician Peter Julian Cayton said, it also had a very small likelihood.

Churned out multi-millionairesBack then, a senator filed a resolution seeking an investigation but nothing came out of it. Last month, senators launched another inquiry into allegations of “manipulation” in the lotto games, including raising jackpot prizes by huge amounts instead of letting the pot grow from lotto bets as well as the frequent winnings in the games.

The PCSO’s six-pick number games are Lotto 6/42, MegaLotto 6/45, SuperLotto 6/49, GrandLotto 6/55, and UltraLotto 6/58 at P20 per combination.

Frequent wins from December to January raised red flags, especially because PCSO increased by P500 million the minimum guaranteed jackpot each for GrandLotto 6/55, UltraLotto 6/58, SuperLotto 6/49, and by P100 million each for Lotto 6/42 and MegaLotto 6/45 as part of its “Handog Pakabog” draws.

The PCSO, in a press release on Jan. 19, claimed that it “churned out multi-millionaires one after the other” for its Christmas and New Year draws. On Dec. 29, a lone bettor won P571 million in the UltraLotto 6/58—the biggest jackpot prize last year.

Then less than three weeks later, on Jan. 16, another bettor won P640 million in the SuperLotto 6/49 draw. The following day, Jan. 17, a lone bettor won the P698.8 million prize for GrandLotto 6/55. Three bettors shared the P108 million prize for Lotto 6/42 on Jan. 2, while two people split the P121 million MegaLotto 6/45 jackpot on Jan. 8.14 million combinations. Sen. Raffy Tulfo theorized that adding P500 million to the pot was to give “profit” to the winning bettor, noting that a rich bettor could spend P280 million to place bets on all 14 million combinations in the SuperLotto 6/49 and take home P360 million, of the P640 million pot, before tax.

Betting is allowed on all combinations, PCSO acknowledged, but said that this carries a huge risk because the wealthy bettor could end up losing more if there is more than one winner of the jackpot prize. PCSO general manager Mel Robles said there was nothing strange about increasing the pot money as this has been done by his predecessors.

The agency generated P265 million in single-day sales on Jan. 16, the highest in five years, and credited the augmented Christmas draws for attracting more bettors. But Tulfo questioned whether the strategy of raising the jackpot is allowed under PCSO’s charter and that the money should instead be given to charity.

Under the PCSO charter, 30 percent of net sales should go to charity, while 55 percent go to prizes and the remaining 15 percent to operations; unclaimed prizes go to the charity fund. The PCSO is also mandated to conduct lotteries and similar activities to generate funds—recently, it launched an online gaming system through its E-Lotto app, which allows those overseas to place their bets.

The winner in the controversial edited photo placed her bet online.Trustworthiness and authenticityNo one can be faulted for dreaming for a better life by placing their bets on lotto games even if the odds of winning are slim. Hitting the jackpot can be a ticket to a financially secure future and, for many, this is a chance to get out of dire circumstances.

It is important that the lottery system is trustworthy and PCSO should institute steps to make the process more transparent. Many suggestions have been put forward such as conducting a separate live stream on the checking of each ball used in the draw and making public the statistics for every draw including how many bets were placed on each combination. PCSO should also keep a balance between protecting the identity of winners and maintaining transparency in the system so that public confidence in the games remains.

The ongoing investigation should see improvements in how PCSO protects not only the trustworthiness and authenticity of the lottery games but also ensures the integrity of the people running them—these factors should not be left to chance at all and should be the main attraction why anyone would want to place their bets on a game of chance.