While the Delaware Lottery is launching its new Multi-Win Lotto game on Thursday, lawmakers will be continuing work on a measure stipulating that the lottery must convert back to mechanical drawing machines and live television broadcasts.
But lottery officials say their high-tech system provides top security and ensures the offerings remain games of chance.
Inside lottery headquarters in Dover, an auditor from an outside firm and state lottery office personnel gather in a secure room to draw the numbers each day. Depending on the schedule of lottery games, several drawings a day take place.
In that room, which houses the computers used to randomly generate the numbers, video cameras record everything and affidavits are signed after each drawing to verify the numbers that are picked.
The drawing process starts when the outside auditor selects which of the office's two computers will be used to randomly select the numbers and which of three mathematical algorithms the machine will utilize.
The auditor makes the selection by picking one of six pieces of paper that have a machine name and algorithm written on it.
The computer begins randomly generating sets of numbers - three numbers for Play 3, four numbers for Play 4, etc. The auditor presses a button to stop the computer, and the number sets it shows are that drawing's winning combination.
"A lot of people believe someone sitting behind a PC is typing up the numbers," said lottery Director Wayne Lemons.
"That cannot happen. This cannot be rigged."
Judy Everett, the lottery's security and support services administrator, said the lottery office and an outside auditor check every computer program to make sure it truly is random before launching new games, such as the Multi-Win Lotto that will debut next week.
Once a game debuts, the computer chip that generates numbers for it is not removed until the game is discontinued.
"There are a lot of checks and balances," said Ms. Everett, who said the lottery office has never had a case of its games being compromised.
Back to the past
Two General Assembly members announced their intention this week to introduce legislation that would force the lottery office to go back to picking numbers by using ball machines, where numbered pingpong balls are circulated through a plastic chamber.
The bill also would require the lottery office to resume televising its drawings.
House Majority Leader Rep. Wayne A. Smith, R-Wilmington, said he has heard from constituents who think the drawings should go back on television to show players nothing is amiss with the number-selection process.
"The lack of confidence could be a financial issue for the state," said Rep. Smith, who will be the bill's lead sponsor.
"Less dollars played means less money in the general fund for police, education, health and all of the other activities state government funds. Bottom line, player confidence is the bedrock on which a successful lottery rests. Some regular players apparently are expressing less confidence in a computer program picking winning numbers and need to see balls drawn live."
Mr. Lemons declined to comment directly on the bill, but said taking away the office's ability to utilize technology would "be like telling a bank they couldn't use ATM machines anymore."
The lottery, Mr. Lemons said, started using the computerized randomizer to automatically draw numbers for one game in 1996. It added Lotto, Play 3 and Play 4 in 1998.
Televised drawings stopped in mid-2002, Mr. Lemmons said, because surveys found few players watched the broadcast. The move also saved about $400,000 a year that the state paid to WHYY-TV to air the drawings.
The lottery's surveys found only 7 percent of players were watching the broadcasts. Most players check newspapers for the numbers or get the winning combinations from retailers. The selections are shown on the Internet shortly after the numbers are picked.
The computerized drawings eliminate the chance for human error, Mr. Lemons said. For example, if the pingpong balls were not exactly the right weight then the randomness of the machine would be reduced.
"When we had the drawings on television, there were a lot of people involved and a lot of things that could go wrong," Mr. Lemons said.
"And the viewership had declined substantially."
Despite the security of the computerized system, not all players are satisfied.
"Many people have expressed concern with the lack of live draws," said Sen. Nancy W. Cook, D-Kenton, who will be the bill's lead sponsor in the Senate.
Rep. Smith said his support for the bill does not mean he thinks the lottery's system is flawed. He wants to keep the players' trust in the lottery.
"The lottery office is doing a good job and there's nothing wrong with the current system from an audit or integrity point- of view," he said.
"However, many players have doubts about a system where they can't see the numbers selected. I think we need to meet that threshold to ensure the continued financial success of the lottery."
The lottery's Lotto game, which is played twice a week, has not had a jackpot winner - matching all six numbers - since February 2004. The jackpot has grown to more than $7 million.
Mr. Lemons attributed the lack of a winner to bad luck and a dwindling number of players buying those tickets. The last Lotto drawing will be held Wednesday. On Thursday, the lottery will begin selling tickets for a new Multi-Win Lotto game.
Several states have had to scuttle their Lotto games, Mr. Lemons said, because the jackpots are not big enough to make up for the long odds.
Brian Peters, deputy director of marketing services for the lottery office, said the new game will have odds of 1 in 5.7, compared to 1 in 362 for the Lotto.
"That's a significant difference," Mr. Peters said of the new odds.
"If you have no numbers that match, you get your money back."
If no one matches all six numbers in the Lotto drawing on Wednesday, then the jackpot will be divided among players who matched five of the six numbers and four of the six numbers.
Players with five numbers will split 75 percent of the jackpot. Players will four numbers will divide 25 percent of the jackpot.
"All of the money will be given away," Mr. Lemons said.