| 13.7°C Dublin

How a secret syndicate managed to 'buy' the Lotto

As the National Lottery celebrates 30 years in business, the legend of one jackpot lives on, writes Liam Collins


Stefan Klincewicz.

Stefan Klincewicz.

Stefan Klincewicz.

It was a Whit bank holiday weekend - and while most ordinary folk were heading off to enjoy the holiday, a small but dedicated band of gamblers spent the days leading up to that Saturday night in smoke-filled backrooms, plotting a coup that would make headlines around the world.

They were planning and executing an audacious scheme to literally "buy" the Saturday night Lotto jackpot of £1,706,046 plus its ancillary prizes.


The late Paddy Mulligan, the gambling-mad owner of Scruffy Murphy's bar.

The late Paddy Mulligan, the gambling-mad owner of Scruffy Murphy's bar.

The late Paddy Mulligan, the gambling-mad owner of Scruffy Murphy's bar.

The mastermind behind the 21-person syndicate of investors, Stefan Klincewicz, decided the omens were right and earlier that week had given the final go-ahead to a coup that was carefully planned in the months and weeks leading up to the 8pm Lotto draw on May 30, 1992.

There were a number of deciding factors. The jackpot had rolled over for two weeks and the prize money was estimated at £1.7m for the winner. Equally, if not more important, was a move, later interpreted as a "blunder" by the National Lottery, to award a £100 special prize to all holders of Match 4 numbers.

Klincewicz, a Cork-born accountant of Polish extraction, who didn't sleep in the three days leading up to the draw, had already supervised the filling out of 243,474 Lotto coupons and started assembling the cash - £973,896 in all - to "buy" every combination so that the syndicate would be certain of winning the jackpot. They would also hoover up Match 3, 4 and 5 prizes, bringing in hundreds of thousands of pounds in additional cash.

As the plan swung into operation, some people became aware by the Wednesday that random terminals, which had taken in €1,000 in Lotto coupons for the weekly Saturday jackpot,were suddenly experiencing takings of £10,000 and beyond. Alarm bells started ringing in the Lottery's headquarters on Abbey Street, Dublin. On Friday afternoon a terse statement was issued to newsagents saying: "The National Lottery: Change in conditions of Lotto Contract under Section 32. Credit limit = 200% of an agent's 10 week average Lotto sales."


Ray Bates, former boss of the National Lottery.

Ray Bates, former boss of the National Lottery.

Ray Bates, former boss of the National Lottery.

In effect, the Lotto bosses were trying to prevent newsagents taking large amounts of coupons when their normal business was a fraction of these amounts. There were also rumours that some newsagents had suddenly pulled down the shutters of their shops - while inside, syndicate members worked around the clock stuffing the machines with coupons in a frantic effort to get every possible combination through.

The National Lottery began shutting down some of these machines, and a deadly serious game of cat and mouse developed between the syndicate and the headquarters of the National Lottery.

Stefan Klincewicz was no stranger to Lotto syndicates, even then. Along with Paddy Mulligan, the gambling- mad owner of Scruffy Murphy's bar off Mount Street, he had put together a 10-man syndicate in the pub - and using the accountant's "system", they scooped a Lotto jackpot of £2,439,760 in April, 1990.

"I was asked to put in £30 a week and I handed over a cheque for £300 for the 10 weeks," says Pat Fitzgerald, one of the few surviving members of that syndicate. "I had never played the Lottery before and once the money ran out I didn't intend to play it again. On the last Saturday I went in to Scruffy's and discovered we'd won - it was incredible."

It was the biggest lottery win in Europe at the time and the 10 fun-loving members had been feted by the National Lottery at a dinner in Polo 1 and had gone to London, appearing on the Derek Jameson show on the newly-launched Sky TV service.

But while Fitzgerald never bought another Lotto ticket and counted himself lucky, at least one member of that syndicate - Stefan Klincewicz - believed that lightning could strike twice, especially with the encouragement of big money.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

In the months leading up to the coup, he worked out that there were 1,945,792 combinations needed. This meant assembling the coupons and filling in every possible combination as well as assembling the secretive backers who would put up almost £1m in the hope of a healthy return on their investment. Gamblers, used to placing big bets on short-odds favourites, put up blocks of anything between £5,000 and £100,000 with the hope of a return of 30pc.

"It was a step above previous systems, there was now a degree of a guaranteed income, yet we could still lose," one of the syndicate was later quoted as saying. And the question of whether they did or did not is still disputed.

"I reckon to know, positively, only eight others who were involved...others probably do not know me," one of the 21 told John Martin of the Irish Independent in the aftermath of the coup. "I was not alone, my input was sub-divided even further and three friends had bought into my stake by the time the draw took place. I imagine that others hedged their bets similarly.

"We did not anticipate the National Lottery closing down the terminals - that took us by surprise," said the syndicate member. "One member went into a shop on Friday with £5,000 and the shop owner contacted the National Lottery who said it was OK, but later that day they started refusing large sums."

As they did, the syndicate organisers employed 'runners' to fan out with large sums of money which sources in the National Lottery would later hint may not all have made it to the lottery terminals.

In the end, they managed to buy an estimated £820,000 worth of tickets - which represented over 80pc of the combinations. And this is where Klincewicz's marriage of "brute force" and mathematics worked its magic.

"We were one step ahead of the Lottery people, because we started putting on what Stefan had worked out were the most likely winning combinations first - the least likely were left until the end, so they were the ones we didn't get on."

And so the members of the syndicate and the public sat glued to the Pat Kenny Show on RTE television that Saturday night, May 30, 1992 when a representative of the National Lottery read out the results of the draw ­­- and the whole elaborate scheme came crashing down around them.

Ray Bates, who then headed the Lottery took pleasure in informing them that they had won, but that the jackpot would be shared with two others - a syndicate from Newbridge, Co Kildare, and a ticket bought in the Dunnes Stores in Finglas. Each winner would get £568,682 - leaving the syndicate with a lot of ground to make up.

What they did was "legal, but not in the spirit of the game", said Bates, and the audience cheered. In the aftermath, TD Gay Mitchell said the syndicate members should be investigated by the Revenue Commissioners.

Klincewicz later said that Match 4 (£100 guaranteed) and Match 5 prizes brought their total winnings to €1,166,000, a profit before costs and expenses of £310,000.

"The £100 guarantee for Match 4 winners was a way of giving the public back amounts which had gone unclaimed in the past," said Dave Curtin, then a public relations executive with the Lottery. "We were always aware of the risk of somebody abusing the gesture."

It was a coup, but not the 'big one' they had hoped for.

The celebrations in the Spa Hotel in Lucan were muted and anonymous, compared with the Scruffy Murphy syndicate's much- publicised victory lap of honour between Dublin and London - with Pat Fitzgerald singing The Old Bog Road and Shay Healy filming his TV show Nighthawks in the pub.

The bad feeling between the syndicate and the National Lottery continued when its two publicly known members, Stefan Klincewicz and Paddy Kehoe turned up on Thursday, June 5, to collect their cheque. They were taken to a private room and told that before the payment could be made, all 21 members of the syndicate would have to sign a letter indemnifying the National Lottery in the event of others claiming to be part of the syndicate.

Brendan Liddy, a solicitor acting for the group, said it would take some time to contact all the members and by signing an indemnity, the syndicate would assume responsibility for any legal complications, rather than the National Lottery.

In the event, the syndicate got its pay-out, but whether it made a profit or how much was hard to figure out. But it did lead to the National Lottery introducing a midweek draw and also increasing the numbers, to prevent a recurrence.

It was a unique event and one which went into popular folklore. And its effects linger on. Stefan Klincewicz, who today lives in Rathfarnham Dublin, is still trying for another big win - but with more conventional methods. He is syndicate manager at Megalotto - which has designs on one day winning the Euromillions.

Good luck with that one.

Most Watched