COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina lottery executive said the state won’t lose $33 million for school buses and college scholarships this year because of a Christmas Day lottery glitch that made nearly every player a winner for two hours — but that could change in the future.
The money will remain in limbo this school year because the glitch is under investigation and there will inevitably be lawsuits once the lottery decides what to do next, interim South Carolina Education Lottery Executive Director Hogan Brown said Thursday.
There is a chance all those winners will end up being losers. State law says winning tickets produced through error or fraud must not be paid.
The lottery hired the independent investigators from Gaming Laboratories International to look into the problem.
But Brown said it’s too early to know what the investigation will find. Intralot, which runs the state’s lottery games, only turned over its computer code for the problem game to the independent investigators Thursday, Brown told the state Education Lottery Oversight Committee.
For two hours on the evening of Dec. 25, a $1-a-play tic-tac-toe game filled in all nine slots for each player. No more than five slots should be filled in, Brown said.
The game was played about 71,000 times during those two hours, which was an unusually high number, Brown said.
The amount won by each player depended on how much they initially paid. Some retailers did pay prizes of $500 or less on site, which amounted to just under $2 million, Brown said.
Nothing like this has ever happened to a U.S. lottery retailer before, Brown said.
Members of the committee asked if the problem could have been caused by a hacker playing Santa Claus. Brown said it was too early in the investigation to know.
Committee members also raised questions about the integrity of Intralot, which is based in Greece and is one of only a handful of companies that run lotteries for governments. The company lost a bid to keep the South Carolina lottery contract last May, but appealed the bid, Brown said.
“Right here at the end of their contract, on Christmas Day, this group lost it and somebody else is going to take over,” said Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney. “I wish whoever is investigating it does a deep drill into this. It just doesn’t make sense.”