COLUMBIA, SC (FOX 46 WJZY) — The ‘winners’ of a South Carolina lottery game that malfunctioned on Christmas will have to wait a little longer to see if it really is their lucky day.
Citing faulty math, South Carolina Education Lottery officials raised the potential payout amount at an emergency meeting Tuesday to $35.5 million from $19.6 million.
More than 42,000 winning tickets were mistakenly printed due to a “programming error,” officials said.
Tony Berry purchased dozens of tickets after each one came up a winner. He says he’s owed $25,000.
“Did you think at any point something wasn’t right?,” asked FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant.
“Yeah,” admitted Berry, shortly after buying the tickets. “But it’s not my fault.”
Lottery officials still do not know what caused the game’s glitch and say they are missing “fundamental information about the nature of the error” from its vendor, Intralot.
To find out what went wrong, the lottery commission has hired New Jersey-based Gaming Laboratories International to conduct an immediate audit.
“GLI is a testing and certification company that is engaged by federal, state and tribal regulators to certify gaming and lottery equipment,” said Christie Eickelman, GLI’s vice president of global marketing.
Eickelman said she could not comment on the audit because they signed a non-disclosure agreement. She would not say, generally speaking, how long audits take or how deep their investigation will go.
According to GLI’s website, the company employs mathematicians and software engineers and has more than 25 years experience testing and certifying games.
“I think it’s unfortunate and it’s a very difficult situation for the commission to be in,” said Tim Madden, a lawyer representing the South Carolina Education Lottery.
Lottery commissioners will not make a payout decision until an audit is complete. That could happen as soon as their next meeting on Feb. 7 but Madden admits that would be unlikely.
“It’s important for players to know that this commission has their best interest at heart,” said Madden. “and this commission is going to do everything they can to make the right decision and is not going to make any decision flippantly.”
Lottery officials say $1.7 million has already been paid out and was redeemed on Christmas. A decision to pay out the rest of the $35.5 million is complicated because, as FOX 46 first uncovered, state law forbids the payout of prizes “produced or issued in error.”
“How is this a case where it was not produced or issued in error?,” asked Grant. “How can you be discussing paying this out?”
“The issue you just described is the issue that’s being investigated,” said Madden. “And that is: What caused these tickets to be printed or produced? Once the commission has the information they’ll be able to decide whether the facts that occurred here lead them to decide that the tickets cannot be paid or whether they can be paid citing specifically the statutory language that you’ve identified.”
“The ultimate question,” he said, “is did the facts surrounding this particular ticket on this particular day fall within that description?”
Lottery officials had hoped to have a decision by the end of January. With a timeframe extended indefinitely, winners like Berry will have to keep waiting.
Berry previously said it would be a “great Christmas” if he gets paid the thousands of dollars he feels he is owed. That money, he said, would help him pay his bills. Reached by phone Tuesday he said he is no longer optimistic that will happen.
Madden says he gets that frustration.
“It makes sense to me that any player who thought they won and has not been able to redeem their claim would be upset,” said Madden. “But it also makes sense that anyone looking objectively would say it doesn’t make sense that for two hours on Christmas Day this particular game printed nine Christmas trees when it was only designed to print five.”
Commissioners complained Intralot has not provided enough information about what went wrong. The company has not responded to FOX 46 requests for comment, Madden said the goal with the GLI audit is to “get them started immediately.”
FOX 46 has requested a copy of the contract with GLI.
“No better understanding but a better hope,” said Madden, “that the GLI audit will get started sooner than later so we’ll have that information.”