The South Carolina Lottery Commission voted unanimously Wednesday on a motion not to pay players who thought they won money in a Christmas Day lottery game.
The motion does include reimbursement for those who bought what the commission called erroneously-awarded tickets.
The Lottery Commission hired Gaming Laboratories International to conduct an independent investigation of the computer error that produced 71,000 winning Holiday Cash Add-A-Play plays during two hours on December 25. Each winning ticket was worth $500.
The commission released the Gaming Laboratories report after a special meeting in Columbia.
“The report shows there were errors in the administration of the game and those errors occurred as a result of the software code,” commission attorney Timothy Madden told reporters afterwards. “Any ticket issued, produced or printed on December 25, 2017 between certain hours which depicts nine tree symbols was issued, produced and printed in error and as a result of that, any prize related to those tickets will not be paid.”
“This was not a lottery discretionary matter,” he said. “Once this board decided that these tickets were issued, produced or printed in error, then state law mandates that no prize shall be paid.”
The report revealed coding errors by the lottery’s former computer gaming vendor, Intralot, and what it called “inadequate” quality assurance testing that would have discovered the errors prior to launching the game. According to the design specifications in the GLI report, the game was set up for 50 top prizes of $500 and a maximum of six million games.
The report says on December 25, 2017, “there were tens of thousands of Holiday Cash Add-A-Play games including Tree symbols in all 9 positions on the 3×3 grid, which far exceeded the number that should have been awarded according to game specifications.”
“All of the tickets that were ever going to be made available for sale were identified in the creation of the game,” Madden said. “The little slips that showed nine Christmas trees were outside of that six million number. So these were newly-generated tickets.”
The error resulted in as many as $35 million in potential payouts to winning ticket holders. Before the error was discovered, some winners were able to claim $1.6 million in prizes. Once the error was found, payouts were stopped and players were told to hold on to the tickets while the matter was investigated.
The GLI report says “A full replication of the incident that occurred on December 25, 2017, was successfully achieved during testing. This functional testing and recreation of the behavior within a controlled forensic environment confirms the conclusion described above relative to the source code analysis.”
“It’s regrettable,” Madden said of the people who did not receive a winning payout while others cashed in their tickets immediately. “I’m sure they regret putting that ticket in their car and not cashing it on that day, if that’s their circumstance. But there’s nothing perfect about this scenario and we have to deal with it as it occurred. At every turn the lottery has done what it could to protect the integrity of the game and players.”
Madden said those who cashed in their tickets right away “got lucky.”
“I think the process the commission took and the manner in which they handled this situation does nothing but enhance the integrity of the South Carolina Education Lottery,” Madden said. “People who play win. Prizes are paid out every day. Somewhere between 65 and 70 percent of the amount of dollars spent on tickets are returned to the players as prizes.”
There are currently two lawsuits filed in Sumter and Richland counties on behalf of winning ticket holders. A Richland County judge has yet to issue a ruling on the lottery commission’s request for dismissal. Lottery officials plan to present a similar motion in the Sumter County case next week. Madden said he wasn’t sure yet how the lottery commission’s decision will affect those cases.
Intralot’s services are no longer used by the South Carolina Education Lottery and Madden said he expects the commission to seek recovery of the $1.6 million paid out in error.
To seek the refund of the purchase price of the tickets, a player should mail the original Holiday Cash Add-A-Play tickets (no copies or other reproductions will be processed for reimbursement) purchased on or after 5:51(17:51) P.M. on December 25, 2017 to this address:
S.C. Education Lottery
P.O. Box 11039
Columbia, SC 29211-1039
Include your name and return address. SCEL will refund the purchase price for each returned ticket and reimburse the player for postage up to the amount of first class USPS postage for the ticket(s) submitted to SCEL. Since these reimbursements will require manual processing, we ask that players mail in all tickets to avoid wait time at the Claim Center.
Requests for Holiday Cash Add-A-Play refunds must be received by SCEL no later than January 7, 2019.