Welcome Guest
Log In | Register )
You last visited December 4, 2016, 5:20 pm
All times shown are
Eastern Time (GMT-5:00)

California Lottery fixes major problem with Derby game

California LotteryCalifornia Lottery: California Lottery fixes major problem with Derby game

Computerized lottery drawings the culprit in flawed results

Dave Andres, an insurance underwriter from Altadena, California, thought he alone was in the habit of scanning hundreds of winning numbers in the lottery's least-popular game, Daily Derby.

He assumed no one else noticed that for 100 days running this winter, none of the winning times in the horse race-themed game had numbers that were repeated.

He knew that players had to not only pick the right horses but also the last three digits of the winner's finishing time. And he saw that those numbers were always like 3.70 and 4.23, and never 1.33 or 4.24 — even though the statistical probability is that duplicate numbers should appear 27% of the time.

But Andres was not alone. An equally sharp-eyed Walnut man who noticed the same aberration described it in a letter to lottery officials last month. That led to the discovery of a computer software glitch that had denied 650 players a chance to win the game's grand prize over six months.

"To whom it may concern. Something's been nagging me about the outcome of the last 150 or so Daily Derby race time draw results," began the handwritten April 18 letter from a man lottery officials refused to identify and can reach only by mail.

California lottery officials quickly investigated, eager to plug any breach in the integrity of a state-sanctioned enterprise that last year saw a record $2.9 billion in sales. The problem was fixed last week.

"This was taken seriously immediately," said California Lottery Director Chon Gutierrez. "It went from the marketing people to our security people, and they came up to us late on [April 29] and they said, 'We've looked at it and think there's a lot of merit to it.' "

As a mea culpa to players, officials plan to take about $250,000 from their advertising budget and boost prizes in the Daily Derby game over the next couple of weeks.

Gutierrez said the lottery from May 18 to June 1 would triple the race time prizes and augment the grand prize to roughly $300,000. Officials also plan to send the Walnut letter writer a thank-you gift.

"This guy identified a real problem for us," Gutierrez said.

There are two ways to win the $2 Daily Derby. Players can pick the top three horses in each race or pick the correct time it takes for a horse to win. Getting it all right nets a player the grand prize, which averaged $300,000 over the six months of the computer glitch and now stands at roughly $100,000.

California lottery officials traced the problem to November, when a contractor was replacing the 7-year-old computer hardware and software that draws the winning numbers each day.

The programmer inadvertently copied a line of software code that kept horses from appearing in more than one winning spot per race. The code guarantees that horse No. 8, for example, doesn't win both first and second place.

But when the code was mistakenly applied to the race time, it blocked the computer from picking any number that repeated.

"Now what I'd really like from you guys is a probability figure on this bizarre streak we've been getting for the last 159 Daily Derby race time draws," wrote the Walnut man.

Andres, who didn't alert lottery officials to his discovery, said, "I just didn't think anybody else would be out there wasting their time with stuff like that."

News of the glitch, Gutierrez said, has hurt lottery worker morale, especially in the unit that oversees the drawing of numbers.

"They're just morose," he said. "They don't know what to say."

The problem took just a few minutes to fix. Rebuilding the trust of Daily Derby fans may take more time. Though it generates only $200,000 of the lottery's $62 million in sales each week, lottery officials say its players are unusually loyal.

From November through April when the software problem existed, 650 of the 2,349 people who won the trifecta by picking the top three horses in the correct order had no chance of winning the grand prize because they picked a race time with a number that repeated.

California lottery officials said they did not know how many people had no chance to win the average prize of $50 for picking the race time alone. Because it is a parimutuel game, all prizes are based on how many people play.

Officials are trying to determine the names of the players affected — they already know the time and place each player bought a ticket — and are also reviewing other lottery games for software problems.

The Daily Derby trouble comes as the California lottery is preparing to join an interstate jackpot game called Mega Millions, a move aimed at boosting jackpots and the roughly $1 billion each year that the lottery generates for California public schools.

"The honesty and the integrity of the lottery is paramount to us," Gutierrez said. "Without it there can be no successful lottery. Whenever issues surface involving questions of integrity, they are dealt with instantly, aggressively and thoroughly. That was done in this case."

Gutierrez said he hoped the situation did not lead to lawsuits.

"We are dealing with this programming error in a forthright and direct fashion," Gutierrez said. "If litigation arises, we will deal with it appropriately. We believe we are treating our players fairly."

This isn't the first time the lottery has tried to make amends with players. In 2002, embarrassed by revelations that 11 of its 137 popular Scratchers games had continued after all grand prizes had been awarded, the lottery took $2 million from its administrative budget to give away $1 million in prizes. The prizes were awarded randomly through a one-time contest that allowed anyone to enter by mailing their name, address and phone number to the lottery.

Lottery officials said they did not know about the Scratchers problem until players filed a lawsuit.

Andres, who plays the Daily Derby occasionally but prefers the Daily 3, said there was not much else the lottery could do.

"It was clearly just a mistake," he said. "It seems like they're doing something to make amends."

Like lottery officials, Andres said the computer glitch hurt some players but helped others. It improved the odds of winning for those players who picked race times with numbers that didn't repeat. Their odds of picking the race time correctly dropped from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 720. Andres was one such player.

"When I became convinced it was busted," he said, "I didn't use the duplicative approach."

Still, he didn't win. After 10 years of playing, his biggest lottery win was $666 last year on Daily 3.

"I'm not so good with numbers," Andres said, "it's just that after a while you look for patterns."

Los Angeles Times

We'd love to see your comments here!  Register for a FREE membership — it takes just a few moments — and you'll be able to post comments here and on any of our forums. If you're already a member, you can Log In to post a comment.

24 comments. Last comment 11 years ago by CASH Only.
Page 1 of 2
Avatar
Greenwich, CT
United States
Member #4793
May 24, 2004
1822 Posts
Offline
Posted: May 13, 2005, 11:25 am - IP Logged

I bet that a lot of avid Daily Derby players did notice something and are upset at these guys for speaking up.

    Todd's avatar - Cylon 2.gif
    Chief Bottle Washer
    New Jersey
    United States
    Member #1
    May 31, 2000
    23260 Posts
    Online
    Posted: May 13, 2005, 11:47 am - IP Logged

    This story is a great example of how the lotteries are makign a HUGE MISTAKE by going to computerized drawings.  We must do everything we can to STOP THEM.

    There are so many other things that can go wrong, just like this.  The whole system of independence and scrutiny is getting the shaft with the mire of computerized drawings.

     

    Check the State Lottery Report Card
    What grade did your lottery earn?

     

    Sign the Petition for True Lottery Drawings
    Help eliminate computerized drawings!


      United States
      Member #379
      June 5, 2002
      11296 Posts
      Offline
      Posted: May 13, 2005, 12:01 pm - IP Logged

      CA requires the cash/annuity choice when you PLAY instead of after you win. I could see CA (or NY, or TX) drawing its lotto by computer, with the software programmed so that only players who chose annuity had a chance to win the jackpot.

        Avatar

        United States
        Member #1826
        July 11, 2003
        2645 Posts
        Offline
        Posted: May 13, 2005, 12:33 pm - IP Logged

        The only concern with balls is that a number might be MIA, and all that would mean is that another number would be accepted. Computers are very secretive about what they're actually doing. So nobody knows if the computer is actually drawing random numbers.

        (insert signature here)

          RJOh's avatar - chipmunk
          mid-Ohio
          United States
          Member #9
          March 24, 2001
          19821 Posts
          Offline
          Posted: May 13, 2005, 12:52 pm - IP Logged

          Had the computer program been making a mistake that were in the players favor, it would have been discovered and fixed before going on line.  Someone always know what a computer is doing, because it is following a set of instructions.

          RJOh

           * you don't need to buy more tickets, just buy a winning ticket * 
             
                       Evil Looking       

            Todd's avatar - Cylon 2.gif
            Chief Bottle Washer
            New Jersey
            United States
            Member #1
            May 31, 2000
            23260 Posts
            Online
            Posted: May 13, 2005, 3:20 pm - IP Logged



            Had the computer program been making a mistake that were in the players favor, it would have been discovered and fixed before going on line.  Someone always know what a computer is doing, because it is following a set of instructions.

            RJOh





            RJOh,

            Normally I would say that's the case, but to me, it appears that the computer programmer who programmed the RNG for the Derby game was not very good.  They probably did not test very well either.  I think the combination of those two things (bad programming + poor testing which did not ferrit out the problem) led to the glitch.

            I can't get over what a classic case this is, in showing how terrible computers are for drawing lottery numbers.

            I can't believe there is not more outrage over this. 

             

            Check the State Lottery Report Card
            What grade did your lottery earn?

             

            Sign the Petition for True Lottery Drawings
            Help eliminate computerized drawings!

              Avatar

              United States
              Member #1826
              July 11, 2003
              2645 Posts
              Offline
              Posted: May 13, 2005, 3:45 pm - IP Logged

              I have contacted Governator Ah-nold about the fiasco a few minutes ago. Godspeed.

              (insert signature here)

                LOTTOMIKE's avatar - cash money.jpg
                Tennessee
                United States
                Member #7853
                October 15, 2004
                11338 Posts
                Offline
                Posted: May 13, 2005, 3:59 pm - IP Logged

                computers should not be used in any lottery game....

                  Badger's avatar - adu50016 NorthAmericanBadger.jpg
                  Wisconsin
                  United States
                  Member #1303
                  March 27, 2003
                  1508 Posts
                  Offline
                  Posted: May 13, 2005, 6:38 pm - IP Logged



                  This story is a great example of how the lotteries are makign a HUGE MISTAKE by going to computerized drawings.  We must do everything we can to STOP THEM.

                  There are so many other things that can go wrong, just like this.  The whole system of independence and scrutiny is getting the shaft with the mire of computerized drawings.



                  I agree about the computerized drawings. THe problem is that the Powers That Be have the power. About the only thing the players can do is hit 'em in the pocketbook....by not playing.

                  ============

                  How can you tell if a politician is lying?

                  Answer: His lips are moving.

                    LOTTOMIKE's avatar - cash money.jpg
                    Tennessee
                    United States
                    Member #7853
                    October 15, 2004
                    11338 Posts
                    Offline
                    Posted: May 13, 2005, 7:10 pm - IP Logged

                    the powers that be will keep doing it as long as the players keep letting them get away with it by still playing......

                      Badger's avatar - adu50016 NorthAmericanBadger.jpg
                      Wisconsin
                      United States
                      Member #1303
                      March 27, 2003
                      1508 Posts
                      Offline
                      Posted: May 13, 2005, 10:27 pm - IP Logged
                      Todd wrote:

                      Normally I would say that's the case, but to me, it appears that the computer programmer who programmed the RNG for the Derby game was not very good.  They probably did not test very well either.  I think the combination of those two things (bad programming + poor testing which did not ferrit out the problem) led to the glitch.

                      I can't get over what a classic case this is, in showing how terrible computers are for drawing lottery numbers.

                      I can't believe there is not more outrage over this. 

                      First, how many people that play the lottery even follow it enough to know this happened?  Remember, those of us here on LP are not "casual" players for the most part.  We pay more attention to all things lotto.  I feel 90% or more of the ticket buyers do not. Heck, if you see how many of them come into the stores looking for the clerks to check their tickets, it shows you they don't have a clue as to what was drawn...they don't really care...let alone do they follow up on the lotto news. Therefore, what outrage?

                      Secondly, as you state poor programming and lack of testing of software caused the problem. Sounds to me like Microsoft was involved. (Sorry but I had to spit that out -- I have been piqued at MS for years for doing the exact same things with their monopoly software)

                      ============

                      How can you tell if a politician is lying?

                      Answer: His lips are moving.

                        Todd's avatar - Cylon 2.gif
                        Chief Bottle Washer
                        New Jersey
                        United States
                        Member #1
                        May 31, 2000
                        23260 Posts
                        Online
                        Posted: May 13, 2005, 11:18 pm - IP Logged

                        NOOOO!!!!! It has absolutely 100% NOTHING to do with Microsoft!  Microsoft has nothing to do with someone programming the Derby game whatsoever.  It is very important not to introduce an unrelated element in the argument, because people will use it to try to get rid of their fault.

                         

                        Check the State Lottery Report Card
                        What grade did your lottery earn?

                         

                        Sign the Petition for True Lottery Drawings
                        Help eliminate computerized drawings!

                          Badger's avatar - adu50016 NorthAmericanBadger.jpg
                          Wisconsin
                          United States
                          Member #1303
                          March 27, 2003
                          1508 Posts
                          Offline
                          Posted: May 14, 2005, 12:42 pm - IP Logged



                          NOOOO!!!!! It has absolutely 100% NOTHING to do with Microsoft!  Microsoft has nothing to do with someone programming the Derby game whatsoever.  It is very important not to introduce an unrelated element in the argument, because people will use it to try to get rid of their fault.





                          Todd, that was my personal shot at MS. I was not saying that MS was involved. My point is that even MS does the same things...i.e. poor programming and lack of pre-testing (which used to be called Beta Testing in the early PC days. Poor programming is rampant these days because programmers have so much RAM and ROM to play with that they aren't forced to be disciplined.

                          I've been "into" personal computers since the early 1980's when the C-64 came out. Those days, you not only had to program your own software (as there wasn't much on the market) but you also had to be efficient; there simply wasn't much RAM or ROM available.

                          Now all these technological "advancements" are making it easy for sloppy programming. And in the name of money and greed software designers use the endusers to discover all the glitches. I personally find it very sad.

                          ============

                          How can you tell if a politician is lying?

                          Answer: His lips are moving.

                            Todd's avatar - Cylon 2.gif
                            Chief Bottle Washer
                            New Jersey
                            United States
                            Member #1
                            May 31, 2000
                            23260 Posts
                            Online
                            Posted: May 14, 2005, 12:52 pm - IP Logged

                            I programmed the C-64 as well, but it sounds like I started a little earlier than you: I also programmed Commodore PETs and VIC-20s.  I learned machine code in order to squeeze code in a small space (plus make it run faster), so I understand your point about sloppy coding.

                            We all tend to look down on the bloated coding of today, but an honest appraisal of programming back then would acknowledge that programs were just as buggy as today.  People love to program, but they hate to test, and that's been true all along.

                            That "human" side of computers is one of the reasons I am so against computerized drawings.  Why bring all the problems of computing into lottery drawings?

                            What if the California Lottery discovered that problem on their own?  Do you think they would have told anyone?  Or would they have quietly fixed the program, and people would have never have known that they had no chance of winning the game?

                            As computers become more prevalent in drawings, the problems will increase greatly.  There are just too many points of failure.  So sad that lottery directors are in such a rush towards that big, bad idea.

                             

                            Check the State Lottery Report Card
                            What grade did your lottery earn?

                             

                            Sign the Petition for True Lottery Drawings
                            Help eliminate computerized drawings!