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The Great Lotto Caper : The California Lottery. For 10 Years It's Haunted You With Its Promise of Untold Wealth. For 10 Years You've Handed Over Your Hard-Earned Dollars and Trusted Your Luck. But Luck, Luck is For Suckers. Now You Have a Plan.

October 08, 1995|Ajay Sahgal | Ajay Sahgal is a novelist living in Los Angeles. His last article for the magazine was about his search for Angelyne

You're driving on the Golden State Freeway one hot Sunday afternoon, somewhere near the City of Commerce or Bell Gardens or Downey or Cudahy, someplace in the vast suburban and industrial blanket of civilization that all of those DC-10s and 747s fly over for the last 20 minutes in their approaches from JFK and Dulles and Miami International.

Up ahead in the distance, you can see the words from almost a mile away.

Who's next?

The giant billboard looms, almost taunting you. The quasi-digital display reads $8,000,000 or $15,000,000 or $21,000,000 or higher numbers, numbers that take amorphous shape in your mind, fantastic supreme numbers, unreal and scary in their possibilities. You think to yourself: What does $21 million look like? In a pile. In a pile of twenties in the living room.

For a buck you can play a this game called Super Lotto--this is public knowledge. For a dollar, you can walk into any number of places with the Big L logo and take your chances. They're slim, sure, but you have faith. You have persistent and tangible belief in one day seeing that pile of twenties in your home. They take up most of the space in that living room. You can't see the TV from the couch. You can no longer move around with ease and comfort. It's hard to clean. You'll simply have to get a bigger place. Because those six numbers are going to come in.

You believe.

Faith isn't everything. There is value and weight in having faith, of course. But you need to hedge your bets and will do whatever it takes to gain that advantage.

Your plan is simple. Gain access to the source, the offices of the California Lottery, establish trust and rapport with high-ranking officials there, learn everything you can about the system and, finally, get close to the machine that decides the numbers picked each week and manipulate the results to suit your needs. You do not think of this as cheating, though that is what it's called by so-called moral individuals, those lesser beings who feel that there is a difference between right and wrong. Wait until the $30 mil comes your way, you think. You'll buy right and wrong.

*

You fly to Sacramento and check in to the Holiday Inn, not because it affords you what you like in a hotel, but because of its anonymity. No one will notice you, or be able to read in your face the sinister plans you have in store--to rig the lottery, to take the millions and millions in prize money, to undress in the privacy of your new home and roll naked over hundred-dollar bills. You drive in a rented car to an industrial section of town, literally on the other side of the tracks from the tree-lined, shady streets of the capital. Here there are no espresso bars, no Tex-Mex cafes. There are only giant warehouses and an occasional office park. In one of the latter you find the offices of the California State Lottery. Several parking lots are full of what seem to be hundreds of cars. It's a big operation and you feel a pain in your gut, nervous energy, the knowledge of imminent tampering coursing through your veins.

But you are on a mission. A mission to win. And several hundred employees are not going to intimidate you.

You announce your presence to a guard, a man behind solid two-inch-thick glass, in a booth with video monitors and surveillance equipment. He tells you to wait and you take a seat. You can smell money in the air around here.

A woman from the public relations department finally arrives to greet you. You smile, behave, shake hands and put on your charming and inquisitive face. She leads you through a series of locked doors, opening them with a complicated combination of key-cards and entry codes. Security is tight, tighter than you expected, but you look at life as a series of obstacles to be overcome.

You tell yourself: Dreamers stay dreamers; doers do.

Your plan is simple. Gain access, gain confidence, find machine, rig machine when no one is looking, say goodby, return to Los Angeles and collect $30 million. Make an appointment with David Geffen for golf at the club. Have Bill and Hillary over for cocktails, talk about policy, discreetly hand an aide a '96 campaign contribution check because tons of money aren't going to make you a Republican.

You are led to a room so bland and corporate it can only be described as "office-like." The PR woman, Norma, sits you down and tells you all about the lottery and hands you piles and piles of information, press kits, brochures, statistics. Another PR person comes in and hands you more information. They ask you if you'd like a tour of the premises.

"Yes," you say. "A tour would be delightful." You close your eyes, rub the bridge of your nose, trying to seem deep in thought. You count silently to seven, for maximum effect. "Can we see the ball machines?" you add, innocently.

They cast furtive and semi-suspicious glances at each other. Norma finally nods.

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