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A Glitch Stole Christmas: S.C. Lottery Says Error Caused Winning Tickets (npr.org) 113

An anonymous reader shares a report: The South Carolina lottery game is called Holiday Cash Add-A-Play, and the rules are pretty simple: Get three Christmas tree symbols in any vertical, horizontal or diagonal line, and you win a prize. Monday was Christmas, and some folks in the Palmetto State were feeling jolly. "I don't play the lottery that much," Nicole Coggins of Liberty, S.C., told local NBC affiliate WYFF. "Every once in a while, I'll buy a Powerball ticket, but something told me to buy a lottery ticket." She paid an extra dollar to add a play. The ticket was a winner, and she was excited.

The station says that as word got out about the sudden proliferation of winning tickets, a frenzy ensued. One store manager told WYFF that "it was crazy" as people hurried to buy the tickets. But the Christmas miracle was too good to be true. The South Carolina Education Lottery says a programming error in its computer system vendor is to blame for so many winning tickets. "From 5:51 p.m. to 7:53 p.m., the same play symbol was repeated in all nine available play areas on tickets which would result in a top prize of $500," the lottery said in a statement Wednesday. "No more than five identical play symbols should appear for a single play. As soon as the issue was identified, the Add-A-Play game was suspended immediately to conduct a thorough investigation."

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A Glitch Stole Christmas: S.C. Lottery Says Error Caused Winning Tickets

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    The state should honor the tickets and not welch. If it was caused by an error, then the state should sue the manufacturer of the tickets for damages.

    • by rwven ( 663186 )

      There wouldn't really be any damages. The winnings are determined by the number of people who won. If almost everyone won, the winnings would be very small per person. The actual payout by the lottery wouldn't really be any larger overall.

      • not in this case. This is more akin to a scratcher, except it's generated at purchase instead of pre-gen'd and bundled.
        I'm pretty sure that the best outcome is a refund and possibly a token payout to all purchasers of error'd tickets.

      • by Lothsahn ( 221388 ) <Lothsahn@@@SPAM_ ... u_bastardsyahocm> on Friday December 29, 2017 @11:58AM (#55828857)
        This was a fixed-price lottery ticket, not a jackpot style scenario. Payout was $500 per ticket.

        People the article interviewed went and bought tons of tickets, seeing that most were winning. The article cited winners of $18,000 and $10,000 complaining that they were worried they would lose their winnings. I think after you win 36 times, mostly in a row, you know something is up, and you may not win the full $18k.

        But they should still win at least the first $500, IMO.
        • by Train0987 ( 1059246 ) on Friday December 29, 2017 @12:08PM (#55828937)

          Disagree. If they played by the rules all those tickets should be valid. They weren't exploiting anything and the wins weren't a result of a malfunction (a programming error is not a malfunction, the game worked as implemented). If this had happened in a casino the state gaming commission would force them to pay all winners.

          • Disagree. If they played by the rules all those tickets should be valid.

            You mean the same rules that say that such malfunctions invalidate these tickets? Oops...

            They weren't exploiting anything and the wins weren't a result of a malfunction (a programming error is not a malfunction, the game worked as implemented).

            Except a programming error is the very definition of a malfunction.

            If this had happened in a casino the state gaming commission would force them to pay all winners.

            No it wouldn't. You clearly know nothing about how casino gaming works. Machines clearly state in their rules that malfunctions invalidate all plays and any big payouts are also subject to verification before a casino will pay out. No casino is required to payout a prize due to a gaming machine malfunction.

            • by Train0987 ( 1059246 ) on Friday December 29, 2017 @12:19PM (#55829019)

              A programming error is NOT a malfunction. The machine worked exactly as it was rogrammed to. That is by definition not a malfunction.

              P.S. I work in the industry and NO casino would get away with this. If a video poker machine or Keno game was programmed incorrectly the gaming commission would force a payout. Sure the casino can take the machine offline and prevent future plays but existing winners would eventually be paid.

              • Well, apparently you can get away with this in New York [foxnews.com], New Mexico [go.com], and lots of other places [vegasclick.com].

                • All three of those examples are machine malfunctions. Human error is not a machine malfunction. A programming blunder is a human error, not a machine malfunction.

                  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Friday December 29, 2017 @12:56PM (#55829243)

                    Lets try this in a different context, shall we?

                    When an airbag fails to deploy because of a poorly manufactured part, that is not a malfunction - the part is working exactly as it was manufactured to do - the laws of physics allow no other outcome. Or perhaps the design itself was flawed - still not a malfunction, it is working exactly as designed.

                    Or maybe, just maybe, the fact that you were thrown through the windshield is evidence that the safety system malfunctioned, since it functioned as designed and implemented, but not as intended?

                    • Seems pretty apples-to-apples to me - either way a component operated as designed/manufactured rather than as intended. Doesn't make much difference whether its a physical component or a logical one - they're both machines intended to operate in one way, that actually do something else.

                    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
                      Software is a way to tell a computer exactly what to do and perfectly follows its instruction to the letter. An airbag cannot be told exactly what to do.

                      Software is a unique situation where a person can exactly and perfectly describe their intentions. If this is not how some people program, then they're in the wrong business.
                  • by Desler ( 1608317 )

                    So basically you’re using a definition that doesn’t match the rest of the world. Fine here: https://vegasinc.lasvegassun.c... [lasvegassun.com]

                    A casino executive said the machine had a software error and mistakenly displayed a jackpot amount in excess of what Casinos Austria is even allowed to pay. Officials told Merlaku that there was a glitch in the machine and blamed the manufacturer for the problem. Merlaku was offered a free meal and $100 instead.

                    So according to you a “software error” is not a malfunction so now please do show me where this casino got in trouble with the state gaming commission. Oh wait, they didn’t and eventually both parties came to a civil settlement far below the jackpot malfunction.

                    • That casino is in Austria. Which state gaming commission has jurisdiction in Austria?

                      The description of what occurred in that article could plausibly be a machine malfunction as well.

              • by Desler ( 1608317 )

                Except there have been multiple high profile stories of casinos refusing to payout for software bugs. Not a single one has involved the casino getting in trouble. Even ones that involved the Nevada Gaming Control Board which has some of the most hardass regulations of any gaming commission. If you’re really in the industry and that ignorant then... sow...

                • Incorrect, I'm personally aware of a case in Nevada where a programming error resulted in a $100,000 slot payout instead of what it should've been, $250. It took some time but eventually the Nevada Gaming Commission unanimously ruled that the casino must pay. Bob Nersesian was the attorney and he specializes in such cases.

                  • by Desler ( 1608317 )

                    https://vegasinc.lasvegassun.c... [lasvegassun.com]

                    Software bug, aka not a malfunction according to you, caused a $54.3 million jackpot to show on machine. Casino refused to pay the amount and later settled for $1 million. Didn’t get in trouble with the Nevada gaming commission.

                  • by Desler ( 1608317 )

                    https://www.wired.com/2014/10/... [wired.com]

                    Another software bug, aka not a malfunction according to you, was found in video poker machines. Player exploited it and was forced to pay back the casinos the jackpots and even legally got in trouble. If software bugs were not malfunctions why would he have been forced to repay the casinos and was even banned from gaming in Pennsylvania?

            • Machines clearly state in their rules that malfunctions invalidate all plays

              What I've wondered is how I'm supposed to know if the machine malfunctioned in the casino's favor. It only seems fair.

          • by mysidia ( 191772 )

            If they got 1 or 2 tickets and just happened to win, MAYBE.

            If they KNEW or came by information such that a Reasonable person would come to know the chance of a winning ticket was
            other than intended, then those "winning" tickets should be invalidated, and in exchange they can receive a store credit to come redeem for replacement tickets after the error is fixed.

          • All games work as implemented and all games contain a malfunction in their implementation. It all goes back to the lopsided way the universe was created.
        • some people fall for the hot slots myth.

          This like that wow this game is paying out big time it's very hot so I will keep playing till it cools off.

      • It's fixed dollar prizes.

        But there's the usual boilerplate rules like it's their sole discretion to validate winning tickets.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The state should honor the tickets and not welch.

      Just to be clear: You are saying the taxpayers should pay for this, and funds should be diverted from paying for schools and road repairs.

      Since these lotteries have fine print legalese that lays out what happens in the case of a printing or programming error, there is no legal obligation to honor the tickets. Since most people that bought the tickets did so after they were aware of the error, there is no moral reason to pay up either.

      • I agree with you.
        I think the best course of action is to refund the purchase, then offer either a small cash payout of good will (noting at the same time said fine print) or a larger credit payout towards future plays.
        In fact, knowing how lotteries work they could offer to pay out everyone at face value in credit and they'd likely regain virtually all of the spent funds.

      • by haruchai ( 17472 )

        How convenient.
        How do we know if previous programming errors resulted in lower numbers of winning tickets in the past?

        "funds should be diverted from paying for schools and road repairs"
        Obligatory John Oliver - https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Just to be clear: You are saying the taxpayers should pay for this, and funds should be diverted from paying for schools and road repairs.

        No. I am saying that the state should honor the tickets, and if the state has a problem they should sue the manufacturer of the tickets. Two sentences!

        • No. I am saying that the state should honor the tickets, and if the state has a problem they should sue the manufacturer of the tickets. Two sentences!

          The state lottery machines 'manufactured' the tickets, putting the taxpayers back on the hook for the 'winnings'...

          • by Pascoea ( 968200 )

            No. I am saying that the state should honor the tickets, and if the state has a problem they should sue the manufacturer of the tickets. Two sentences!

            The state lottery machines 'manufactured' the tickets, putting the taxpayers back on the hook for the 'winnings'...

            It's right in the summary:

            South Carolina Education Lottery says a programming error in its computer system vendor is to blame for so many winning tickets.

            Do you really think the state built these machines and wrote the code to run them? I'm sure the state can configure things like how often and how much to pay out (similar to slot machines) but I sincerely doubt they have access to the source code.

            It will be interesting to see how this plays out though. My bet, some State lacky wanting to leave for Christmas accidentally put an invalid value in the "payout percentage" input causing the machines to output invalid values.

        • if the state has a problem they should sue the manufacturer of the tickets.

          SC would almost certainly lose that lawsuit. Just as the lottery tickets have an "out" for printing and programing errors, the contract with the manufacturer/printer almost certainly has a clause covering that as well.

          The state has no legal or moral obligation to pay, so why should they be able to push this non-existent obligation onto someone else?

          • The state has no legal or moral obligation to pay,

            The state made an offer, the customer accepted, goods were paid for, money exchanged hands. At the point it came time for the state to fulfill its offer, it said "no". I think there is a moral, if not legal, obligation created by that contract.

            As to the justification for not paying winners because "paying out these wins takes money from schools or roads" or whatever exactly it was, I'll just point out that that excuse would justify never paying a winning ticket because every winning ticket takes money away

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            It's a good job it was only 500 bucks. If it had been 5 million people would be suing for emotional distress. Imagine thinking you had won, only to be told "sorry glitch".

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Train0987 ( 1059246 )

        I am not aware of any fine print on lottery tickets excluding wins based on "programming error". The programming defines the game and any error is not the fault of the player.

        Your bit about taxpayers paying for this is false as well since the winning are paid from lottery revenues. The lottery exists as a way to fleece (double-dip) taxpayers in the first place. It would cost taxpayers much more if people stopped playing the lottery because the state can arbitrarily rescind winnings.

        Which brings another p

        • I am not aware of any fine print on lottery tickets excluding wins based on "programming error". The programming defines the game and any error is not the fault of the player.

          Yes, and that programming can have errors which will invalidate the payouts. This is the party of pretty much every lottery system in existence. You not really this ignorant are you?

          • Programming errors do not invalidate a win since it is human error and not an equipment malfunction.

            Have personal insults ever helped you win an argument?

            • All equipment malfunction is human error - either the machine was used or maintained improperly, or it was designed or built improperly such that it is possible for it to fail despite being used and maintained properly.

            • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

              Programming errors do not invalidate a win since it is human error and not an equipment malfunction.

              Then in that case everything is a human error since if equipment malfunctioned it was either designed, manufactured, or serviced incorrectly, all of which involve human input at some level. It's humans all the way down, not turtles.

      • They knew they were buying winning tickets and you say should know that they cannot do that? And how do you make a difference between those that knew and those that dit not?

        What is interesting is that real chance would make it possible to happen, just like any other combination for all the tickets.

        And if the taxpayer agrees with the profits, they should agree with the losses as well. So yess, they should honor the tickets. It is not the buyers fault they have shitty quality control.

        I used to play on a macin

        • They knew they were buying winning tickets and you say should know that they cannot do that?

          They should have known, because that is how all lotteries work.

          And how do you make a difference between those that knew and those that dit not?

          You don't. Nobody wins. At most they are entitled to a refund of the ticket price.

          THOSE ARE THE RULES. If you don't like the rules, then DON'T PLAY.

          Also, if you are not stupid, then DON'T PLAY.

          Lotteries are a rip-off, and this is just a further confirmation of that. The rules are designed to screw you. We should not change the rules retroactively to make them "fair" to stupid people at the expense of non-stupid people.

      • by Rob Riggs ( 6418 )

        Since these lotteries have fine print legalese that lays out what happens ...

        What the advertising giveth, the fine print taketh away.

      • You can't prove that people were knowingly committing fraud. You also can't prove that the South Carolina state government isn't trying to commit fraud by 'claiming' there was a 'computer error' to get out of paying. If it were I judging on this matter, I'd say the company that wrote the software be liable for the cost of paying the winning tickets, since they're ultimately responsible for this and also the only party involved in it that can be proven liable in any way. Maybe next time they'll be more compe
      • I bet if the "printing or programming error" resulted in winning tickets to be non-winning tickets, you wouldn't be seeing any surprise payouts.
        • I bet if the "printing or programming error" resulted in winning tickets to be non-winning tickets, you wouldn't be seeing any surprise payouts.

          Of course not. Lotteries are not designed to be "fair". They are designed to extract the maximum revenue from the dumbest people.

          SC will likely not pay out any of these "winning" tickets. Will this result in lower ticket sales in the future? Of course not. Dumb people will continue to be dumb.

    • Pretty much all lottery have an user agreement that if there is an error, they are not forced to honour anything whatsoever.
      • Pretty much all lottery have an user agreement that if there is an error, they are not forced to honour anything whatsoever.

        This "agreement" appears on the back of the ticket, which you don't get to read until after you have bought the ticket. Kind of like the shrink-wrap EULAs we all believe are perfectly reasonable and legally enforceable and entirely tilted to the benefit of the seller or manufacturer.

      • Can the tickets be returned for a refund, since they were a complete loss and certainly not fit for purpose?

  • IMO, the tickets should be paid, at least the first ticket per person. I think that's the only ethical course of action.

    For people who found it was a glitch and repeatedly bought tickets, I can see some argument for only paying the first.

    But what will likely happen is some lawyer will cite some obscure contract language and nobody will get anything. I hope I'm wrong.
    • The prize was up to $500 I don't know about SC but in my state you can cash in a winning ticket less than $600 at a local retailer. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them where cashed in prior to them finding out.

      • I imagine ALL the winning tickets would have been cashed in at the point of sale. Why leave the store with a winning ticket instead of cash?

        • If you are purchasing them at a convenience store then chances are they don't have enough cash on hand to cash a bunch of $500 tickets.

      • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

        The prize was up to $500 I don't know about SC but in my state you can cash in a winning ticket less than $600 at a local retailer. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them where cashed in prior to them finding out.

        The ones that cashed out quickly probably got paid. The ones that got greedy and spent an hour driving around to different gas stations and collecting 20K worth of "winning" tickets probably didn't because the system quickly realized there was a problem and blocked those tickets. One article I read interviewed one person who said when they tried to cash out the system wouldn't let them as it was already identified as an error or incorrect ticket.

    • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Friday December 29, 2017 @12:16PM (#55828997) Journal

      IMO, the tickets should be paid, at least the first ticket per person. I think that's the only ethical course of action.

      Let's just face it: US society is stacked against everyone who isn't in the top 1%

      Some years ago, a company lost hundreds of millions of dollars when they screwed up their algorithmic trading software. The exchange reversed some of those trades, but why? If I am on the other side of the trade and I made a profit, why should I lose this just because they claimed that there was an error? As an ordinary small trader, I can't get trades reversed because I made a mistake.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Legally the liability of the state is likely limited in several ways, including terms of service and sovereign immunity. It's almost certain they can get away with not honoring the tickets *legally*. That doesn't mean they can get away with it flat-out.

      A lottery ticket sale is a transaction in which someone gives you perfectly good money in exchange for something which is practically worthless. In other words a lottery is the next thing to a license to print money. But the whole thing depends on suckers

    • by Pascoea ( 968200 )

      IMO, the tickets should be paid, at least the first ticket per person

      Seems like a sensible response.

  • If the glitch resulted in only losers everywhere nobody would ever know and the South Carolina lottery would gladly keep the money.

    They should pay all the winners. All of them.

  • If we allow our wealthiest and most powerful citizens to be opportunistic scum whenever they feel like it, we should offer the same option to our least-privileged citizens as well.

    No criminal charges and full payouts for all tickets purchased.

    Either that, or we need to talk about reworking the rules for everybody.

    • This lottery isn't run by the wealthy. It is run by the state, you would literally be taking money from innocent people and giving them to sociopaths who KNEW the lottery system was broken (winning 36 times in a row).

  • Looks like He answered YES to all prayers in his computer again.

  • " 'And it was another winner and another winner. So I thought, "Well, maybe there is something wrong with their machine. This can't be real." '

    She suspected something was wrong, yet she kept buying tickets - seems like a clear example of exploiting a malfunction in the lottery.

  • -- which is a pretty safe assumption if the lawyers drawing up contest rules were competent -- how to deal with the PR fallout?

    If it were me I'd do what lotteries are set up to do: make people regard a worthless piece of paper as valuable.

    The SC lottery transfer about $400 million annually to the state. 5% of that -- the usual accounting benchmark for a "not materially significant" fraction -- would amount to $20 million. $20 million is a lot of money to a lottery player.

    So I'd take $20 million and set up

  • "Something told me...." this is how gambling addictions start. People honestly start believing they have the voice of god or something in their head and that if they undergo certain rituals it will purify their mind to receive the divine word that will lead them to more money.

    This is one of those critical points by which you can judge society. People say shit like this all the time. "Something told me to do some crazy artificial thing." That's a red, red flag. If some one is talking like that they have lost

    • "Something told me...." this is how gambling addictions start.

      Gambling addictions start because some people are susceptible and sources of gambling seek every method of fostering that susceptibility. This is why slot machines make lots of noises when you win. This is why the lights are where they are in casinos, and the music, and the carpet pattern, and everything else about the environment. This is why you don't have to leave the table to get dinner in a poker room, or to get a drink. This is also why you don't get paid every time you play, you get intermittent rewa

    • Missed this the first time:

      "Something told me to do some crazy artificial thing." That's a red, red flag. If some one is talking like that they have lost their grip on reality.

      The reality is, something did tell them to do this. The state. They run advertisements telling me how much fun this is and I should give them as gifts, even. Don't blame the people who see the ads, blame the ones who run the ads.

      • But if we don't blame the people who fall for the ads how will we strengthen our population to be resistant to misinformation? Honestly this crosses the border of schizophrenia. You can't be influenced by ads without reasoning and say you're mentally healthy.

  • While I agree that they should have paid from an ethical standpoint, anyone who's ever been in a casino knows "Malfunction voids all pays or plays".

    Is a programming error a malfunction? No. But do you really think the casinos are going to lose? Or, worse yet, in state lotteries, THE STATE?

    Be fully justified in your pissed-offedness, but that doesn't mean you'll get anywhere.

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