Australians claim Va. lottery officials want to check

March 06, 1992|By New York Times News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- An Australian syndicate that tried to corner a $27 million Virginia Lottery game handed over a pink ticket bearing the winning numbers yesterday. But state officials here said they would not pay the prize until they investigate the ticket's validity.

The Lottery Department said last night that it would rule on the matter by the end of next week. Kenneth W. Thorson, the Lottery director, said that if the prize were not paid to the investment group, the money would go toward a future jackpot.

Lottery officials said that the International Lotto Fund, based in Melbourne, Australia, bought 5 million of the 7 million possible numerical combinations in the Feb. 15 game. The game requires a player to pick the six correct numbers between 1 and 44.

Just one ticket was printed with the winning numbers: 8, 11, 13, 15, 19 and 20.

Presenting that ticket would customarily be all that was required toreceive a check for $1,026,000, the first installment of the prize after taxes were withheld.

Lottery regulations require that each lottery ticket be paid for at the lottery terminal. But the group's claim is in question because the tickets were paid for at the headquarters of Farm Fresh Inc. in Norfolk, and the winning ticket was issued at a store in nearby Chesapeake.

"The perception that this is changing the rules is really a misunderstanding," Mr. Thorson said. "The rule was always there."

Paula I. Otto, a Lottery Department spokeswoman, said that the department would investigate who bought the ticket and how.

Australian officials have said that the fund has about 2,500 investors who put up a total of $7.5 million. Most are from Australia, but some are from the United States, Europe and New Zealand, the officials said.

Ms. Otto said that lottery investigators also must research the tax implications of the prize, since it is the first time a foreign corporation has claimed the money.

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