Friday, January 15, 1999 Published at 23:59 GMT
Italy hit by lottery scandal
Polls suggest Italians may continue having a flutter
By Rome Correspondent David Willey
In Italy nine people have been arrested for fraudulently fixing the numbers in a state-run lottery. A minor finance ministry official in charge of overseeing the fairness of the draw in Milan has told police that he knew of over 100 cases of fraud between 1995 and 1997.
Millions of dollars are wagered every week in a national number guessing game in which a series of numbers from one to 99 are drawn in cities all over Italy.
The Milan Lotto, as the gambling game is called in Italian, is at the centre of the worst lottery scandal to be uncovered for decades.
In Milan a gang of criminals apparently succeeded in bribing the children who pick out the winning numbers each week from a rotating drum full of silver balls with numbers inside. They told the children to choose only the shiniest balls.
The children, some from an orphanage and some related to finance ministry officials, were supposed to be blindfolded, but they learned to squint through their blindfolds to pick out only the balls which had been tampered with.
Police said investigations were being extended through the lottery draws in Genoa and Rome. The authorities have promised that in future all draws will take place under the eye of television cameras at a central location in Rome. Hitherto separate draws have taken place at a dozen cities all over the country.
Sales of lottery tickets in Rome have slumped since the news broke about the fraud. But the results of an opinion poll suggested that many Italians may continue to have a weekly flutter on the lottery.
Betting on numbers is a very old tradition, particularly in southern Italy and suggestions that the game should be made less open to fraud by producing random numbers electronically have not been accepted.