Human error causes $47M lottery mistake

October 22, 2008 10:08:58 AM PDT
Debra and Raul Bennett are faithful lottery players, though in nearly 15 years of playing they never had won much more than pocket money. So on Sunday, when the retired Hampton, Va., couple realized they had a winning ticket from the Virginia Lottery's brand-new Fast Play Super 7s game, they were ecstatic. Plans for spending the $7,777 -- the game's top prize -- came fast and furious.

But when the Bennetts went to the Hampton Virginia Lottery office Monday morning, there were at least a dozen other winners waiting to collect their $7,777 jackpots.

Lottery officials are saying that a human error caused the game to incorrectly spit out 609 top-prize tickets, leaving hundreds, including the Bennetts, frustrated and wanting their money.

"Other people started showing up with winning tickets also, and we said 'What is going on?'" Debra Bennett said. "Some people had three of them."

When the Bennetts' ticket was scanned, they were told by lottery workers that it was worth just $2.

If Virginia is forced to pay out all the Fast Play Super 7s jackpots, it would cost more than $4.7 million.

Virginia Lottery spokesman John Hagerty told ABCNews.com today that they are consulting with the Virginia Attorney General's Office to determine what legal responsibility the state lottery has regarding the erroneous tickets.

The Bennetts were already planning to fly their sons and families in for Thanksgiving, and the jackpot would not only have set them up with hotels and rental cars but also would have allowed the couple to fly out to Washington state to spend Christmas with their eldest son and infant granddaughter.

The Glitch That Rocked the Virginia Lotto

The $2 instant game is played by adding up a series of computer-generated numbers. The ticket holder wins money for each set of numbers that total seven, with the lowest prize being $2 for one seven, going up to the $7,777 grand prize for eight sevens.

Hagerty said the error was caught shortly after 9 a.m. on Sunday, just a few hours after Fast Play Super 7s debuted. The game was taken offline, after generating a total of 2,336 tickets, and has not yet been reinstated.

The error, he said, was made by an employee at GTECH, the largest lottery technology business in the world, when the game was being installed into the system.

Bob Vincent, GTECH's senior vice president for corporate affairs, confirmed it was a programming error, but declined to comment on the status of that worker's employment.

"We have identified it and corrected it," he said of the error.

Based in Providence, R.I., GTECH has contracts with 27 state lotteries and has a 70 percent market share worldwide. Each game, Vincent explained, has a software code that determines variations of the game and ensures random winners.

'They Need to Make it Right'

"We're asking our players to be patient and if they have one of those tickets to hang on to it," Hagerty said.

The Bennetts are not only hanging on to their ticket, they've got it locked away in a safe.

Debra Benett said she told her husband, a retired Lt. Colonel in the Air Force, that if they don't get their $7,777, she's through playing the Virginia Lottery.

"To us, it's a lot of money," she said. "They need to make it right."

Another player, Judy Waters, told ABC affiliate WVEC that she rushed back into the Virginia Beach gas station where she bought her winning ticket only to find out that, like the Bennetts, it was worth just $2.

"I don't see why it's my problem. I think that's their problem. I'm sorry you had a computer glitch, but stand by what it did," Waters told WVEC.

Hagerty couldn't say whether the Virginia Lottery would seek damages from GTECH, only that their top priority was to resolve the situation "fairly."

Last year, a New Mexico man filed suit against the Sandia Resort and Casino in Albuquerque after he was told his winning pull on a slot machine was a malfunction and he would not be awarded the nearly $1.6 million prize.

Also last year, a Pennsylvania man said he was denied the $102,000 that he won off a slot machine at the Philadelphia Park Casino after security officials told him the jackpot was caused by a flawed test the casino was running.

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