SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Lottery mastermind Stefan Mandel has spent years trying to beat the luck of the draw. A $27 million payout from the Virginia Lotto indicates there's no madness in his methods.

Mandel, a Romanian immigrant, heads the International Lotto Fund syndicate, which held the only winning ticket in the big-bucks Virginia drawing. On Friday, Virginia lottery officials said tax questions and other issues were settled and the Lotto Fund could pick up its check.

It wasn't the first time Mandel's been involved in such a plan - and probably not the last - but it carried the biggest payout so far. And once again, he has officials scrambling to ensure no one can do it again.

Virginia, one of 32 states with lotteries, now demands ticket vendors serve single-ticket buyers before requests for block purchases. Canadian lotteries say they are also watching out for block buys.

But Mandel has come under scrutiny before, and said his group will try to buy more jackpots around the world.

''Obviously, money has something to do with it,'' he said. ''But there is more than the money. There is the challenge involved ... It's more of a kick.''

Mandel has refused to say exactly how his system works, claiming it would be ''like Coca-Cola revealing their recipe.''

But he basically has launched a mammoth version of the office lottery pool - people buying tickets as a group and agreeing to share the winnings.

The Melbourne-based International Lotto Fund recruited about 2,500 investors for $3,000 each.

The target apparently was to watch several lotteries around the world and wait until a jackpot grew larger than the cost of buying tickets with every combination of numbers.

There were 7.1 million possibilities in the Virginia lottery, in which players choose six numbers from 1 to 44.

The International Lotto Fund reportedly tried to buy every possibility in Virginia but ran out of time and purchased about 5 million tickets, flooding grocery chains with forms to process.

There were two main risks: that it wouldn't pick the winning combination or that there would be several winners splitting the pot.

But the group was the sole jackpot winner and picked up more than $500,000 for other tickets with four or five numbers correct. Each investor will receive more than $400 a year for 20 years - a 167-percent return.

Mandel said he was not among the beneficiaries.

''My role is as consultant,'' he said in a recent news conference. ''I produced the system. I am the originator of the fund but I wasn't involved in the draw.''

Mandel was not available for an interview and has made little public comment since announcing he had the winning ticket.

Mandel first entered the spotlight in 1986, when he headed a group that covered all 3.8 million possible combinations in an Australian lottery, using a computer to fill out the forms.

When 11 winners emerged - more than the maximum of seven he had hoped for - Mandel's group found itself clearing $97,000, minus expenses.

Mandel said at the time that he ''does not believe in gambling in general'' and tries to discourage people from taking excessive financial risks.