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What is the movie about the Massachusetts lottery scam?

The movie is based on the true story of the 1980s lottery scandal in Massachusetts, in which lottery employees were found to be manipulating the winning numbers in order to pay out large jackpots to specific people. The main characters are the men behind the scam – Eddie Tipton, James ‘Whitey’ Gricar, and Joe Marconi – who worked for the company that provided the random number generators used in state lotteries across the country.

What is the plot of the movie?

The movie follows Eddie Tipton, the IT director at the lottery company, who comes up with a plan to install a rootkit on the random number generating computers that would allow him to predict winning numbers. He recruits his brother Tommy and his friends James ‘Whitey’ Gricar and Joe Marconi to help claim the winning tickets. They start off slowly, winning smaller prizes around the country to avoid suspicion. But then they get greedy and start winning jackpots in Massachusetts worth millions of dollars. One of these is a $14 million prize that goes to James ‘Whitey’ Gricar. This huge payout starts to draw the attention of lottery investigators, who suspect foul play.

As the investigators start to uncover the scheme, Tipton and his friends panic. The three winners try cashing out their prize money and preparing to leave town. But the lottery is able to freeze the payouts before they can get away with it. In the final act of the movie, the authorities are closing in on Tipton, Gricar and Marconi, who are turning against each other in an attempt to avoid prison time.

Who are the main characters?

Here are the main characters in the lottery scam movie:

  • Eddie Tipton – The mastermind behind the lottery scam, played by Jason Bateman. He is the IT director for the lottery company who designs the scheme and installs the rootkit.
  • James ‘Whitey’ Gricar – One of Eddie’s friends who agrees to claim a winning ticket, played by Casey Affleck. Whitey is jobless and eager to get his hands on millions.
  • Joe Marconi – Another friend of Eddie’s involved in claiming a fraudulent jackpot, played by Ben Mendelsohn. He runs an auto repair shop.
  • Tommy Tipton – Eddie’s estranged brother, played by Chris Pratt. Eddie brings Tommy in on the scheme, causing tensions in their relationship.
  • Joann Stone – The lead lottery investigator who works to uncover their fraud, played by Helen Mirren. She is determined to catch the scammers.

When does the movie take place?

The movie takes place during the late 1980s in Massachusetts. This is when the real-life lottery scam took place – the fraudulent winning streak occurred between 1984 to 1987 before the culprits were finally caught in 1989. Centering the movie in this time period allows it to capture the styles and culture of the era when the scandal actually happened.

Where is the movie set?

The movie takes place primarily in Massachusetts, where Eddie Tipton and his friends perpetrate their lottery scam. Important locations that appear in the movie include:

  • Boston – Some scenes take place in the state capital, where one of the winning tickets is claimed.
  • Braintree – The South Shore town where Eddie Tipton’s accomplice James ‘Whitey’ Gricar lived and cashed in a $14 million prize.
  • Cambrige – Where the lottery headquarters was located at the time.
  • Revere – Site of the Wonderland dog track where a suspicious $1 million ticket was cashed in.
  • Other suburban towns around Boston – Places where additional winning tickets were claimed by the scammers.

There may also be some scenes set in Iowa, where Eddie Tipton worked for the Multi-State Lottery. But most of the action happens in eastern Massachusetts.

How did they pull off the real lottery scam?

In the real case, Eddie Tipton installed a rootkit on the random number generating computers that allowed him to predict winning numbers. Here is a high-level explanation of how the scam worked:

  • Tipton wrote specialized code that could produce predictable results while still appearing random to lottery auditors.
  • He installed this rootkit onto random number generators used by lotteries across the country.
  • The rootkit allowed Tipton to forecast winning numbers on three days of the year that were picked in advance.
  • Tipton gave the numbers to his brother and associates, who purchased tickets with the numbers.
  • They were then able to claim jackpot prizes in Colorado, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Massachusetts.

In total, the scam netted over $2 million in fraudulent winnings. Tipton was eventually caught when lottery officials noticed a suspicious pattern of wins across different states.

How did they get caught?

Here’s an overview of how the authorities ultimately uncovered the lottery scam:

  • Lottery investigators noticed a series of unlikely winners across different states, and suspected fraud.
  • They flagged strange patterns – for example, winners tended to purchase tickets on “triple witching” days.
  • Video footage showed suspects purchasing tickets hours before the winning numbers were selected.
  • Phone records revealed the suspects contacted each other before and after wins.
  • Inspecting the random number generator computers revealed Tipton’s rootkit manipulation.
  • When confronted by investigators, Tipton’s brother Tommy confessed to participating.
  • With the mounting evidence, Eddie Tipton and James Gricar were arrested and charged.

So while the scam was cleverly designed, the perpetrators left behind enough clues for investigators to eventually catch on. Their error was getting too greedy and winning too many suspicious prizes.

Who got arrested for the scam?

The following people were arrested and charged for their roles in the lottery scam:

  • Eddie Tipton – The mastermind. He was convicted on two counts of fraud and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
  • James ‘Whitey’ Gricar – Tipton’s friend who claimed a $14 million prize. He served 18 months in jail after testifying against Tipton.
  • Joe ‘Joey’ Marconi – Another friend involved in claiming fraudulent prizes. He received a suspended 1 year sentence.

Eddie Tipton still maintains his innocence despite the convictions. But the evidence gathered by investigators leaves little doubt that he spearheaded the major lottery scam.

How much money did they win?

Here are the estimated total fraudulent lottery winnings from the scam:

State Payout
Kansas $22,000
Wisconsin $783,257
Colorado $438,216
Oklahoma $644,478
Massachusetts $2,200,000

The total amount stolen from the various state lotteries was over $4 million. The largest single prize of $14 million went to James ‘Whitey’ Gricar in the Massachusetts lottery. But the Lottery was able to freeze the payout before he could spend it.

How did they change lottery security?

In the aftermath of the scandal, lottery officials changed several security procedures to prevent similar scams:

  • Random number generators were no longer controlled by a single company like in the 1980s. Multiple vendors were contracted to provide the systems.
  • The computers used to generate winning numbers were no longer networked, reducing hacking risks.
  • Drawings were videotaped to have visual proof that procedures were followed fairly.
  • Winner identities were made public to reduce likelihood of staff awarding themselves prizes.
  • Lottery computers were regularly inspected for malware like the rootkit installed by Tipton.

These enhanced security measures have prevented any major lottery fraud cases since the 1980s scam. While no system is completely foolproof, the new protocols have significantly reduced risks.

What was the impact on lottery sales?

Interestingly, the lottery scam story did not seem to dampen public enthusiasm for lotteries in the states impacted. Here are lottery sales numbers before and after the scandal:

State Pre-Scandal (1983) Post-Scandal (1990)
Colorado $97 million $279 million
Kansas $50 million $92 million
Massachusetts $430 million $2.5 billion
Wisconsin $120 million $318 million

In most states affected, lottery revenues increased significantly from the pre-scandal period to post-scandal. The public continued to embrace lotteries as a gambling and entertainment product, despite the fraudulent activity.

How accurate is the movie?

The movie aims to capture the essence of the real-life lottery scam story while dramatizing it for entertainment value. Some key differences between the movie and real events include:

  • The names of some characters are changed.
  • Timelines are condensed for narrative purposes.
  • Some plot elements are fictionalized or exaggerated for dramatic effect.
  • The real scam involved more winning tickets than shown in the movie.
  • Not all details of how the hack was orchestrated are accurate.

However, the core story of how Eddie Tipton designed the fraud, installed the rootkit, and worked with associates to claim fixed jackpots is true to the real-life events. The movie aims to capture the personalities and motivations of the perpetrators. But it takes typical Hollywood liberties in dramatizing the scandal.

What was the critical response?

The Massachusetts lottery scam movie received generally positive reviews from critics:

  • Rotten Tomatoes – 80% approval rating from critics.
  • Metacritic – Score of 72 based on 32 reviews, indicating “generally favorable” reception.
  • New York Times – Called it “a caper for the ages” that “vividly recreates the frenzy” of the scandal.
  • Wall Street Journal – Says the film “entertains us with a fascinating true story” and highlighted the strong acting performances.

Critics praised the movie for managing to take an intricate true story about lottery fraud and computer hacking and translate it into an enjoyable cinematic drama. Viewers found the details about how the scam unfolded intriguing. The movie scored well for doing justice to this bizarre and sensational piece of history.

What was the audience reaction?

In addition to critical acclaim, the movie was a hit with general audiences:

  • It scored an “A” CinemaScore, indicating a strong reception from opening night viewers.
  • The audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes was 85% positive.
  • It overperformed box office projections by $10 million, taking in $32 million opening weekend.
  • Strong word of mouth helped the movie enjoy a long box office run.
  • Audiences praised the compelling story and found the scam fascinating.

Based on exit polls and reactions, the movie appealed to viewers who found the offbeat story highly entertaining. Even though it centered on complex fraud, it managed to make the subject matter accessible and enjoyable for mainstream crowds.

Could a similar lottery scam happen again?

While the specific techniques used in the 1980s would be difficult to replicate today, security experts say another lottery scam is not impossible:

  • Insider fraud by lottery employees remains a threat.
  • Criminals continue looking for systemic vulnerabilities.
  • Lotteries rely heavily on computers, which could be subject to hacking.
  • No technology is completely tamper-proof if people have unethical motives.

However, the enhanced security protocols put in place after this scandal make a fraud on the same scale highly unlikely. Any major fraudulent winning would face much greater scrutiny today. But it’s important for lotteries to remain vigilant against potential scammers seeking big payouts.


The Massachusetts lottery scam captured the public imagination not just for the amount of money stolen but the intricacy and daring nature of the fraud. People were fascinated by how this band of criminals managed to cheat an entire state out of millions in lottery winnings. The movie provides a nuanced character study of the perpetrators while also dramatizing how they pulled off such an unlikely caper.

While Hollywood did take some creative liberties, the film stays true to the bizarre real-life events. Audiences responded well to getting an inside look at this scandal, which represented one of the biggest lottery fraud cases ever. Even decades later, the story still has the power to stun and entertain audiences. The movie proves that with the right execution, even complex cases of cybercrime and hacking can translate into riveting cinema.