Serbian Lottery controversy: Winning number called out before its drawn
The head of Serbia's national lottery resigned on Thursday after a television graphic during this week's draw appeared to predict the winning number, triggering suspicion and outrage among impoverished Serbs for whom playing the Lotto has been a weekly ritual for decades.
The draw dominated Thursday's front-pages in the Balkan country, where Serbs had hoped their beloved lottery was above the corruption that permeates much of Serbian life.
Prosecutors began an investigation and the hostess of Tuesday's televised draw and four colleagues were subjected to a polygraph test. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told a news conference on Wednesday: "If there was any criminal activity these people will answer to the law. The path to prison is very short."
Many Serbs, including pensioners and the jobless for whom the lottery is their one hope of prosperity, watched aghast as the fourth of five balls drawn by the automatic lottery machine came out as 27, but appeared on the TV graphic as 21. The next ball drawn was, curiously, 21.
The lottery company, which is state-run, said the draw would stand, blaming a "technical error" caused by the person who filled out the television graphic. One lottery executive said it was "pure coincidence" that the graphic would mistakenly call the No. 21 ball, only for it then to emerge as the next number.
State Lottery Serbia, which has long been run by political appointees, said in a statement that director Aleksandar Vulovic had resigned "on moral grounds", but that he maintained the draw was "completely regular".
Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said five people, including the television hostess, had been interviewed by police and subjected to a lie-detector test. He said police had seized the lottery equipment.
"Police chase ball No. 21," read the headline in the newspaper Vecernje Novosti.