Robert Johnson's lucky number is typically 909, but not this month.
The Nashville man has played the Tennessee Lottery's Cash 3 game twice a day, every day this month, and his numbers haven't come up.
Turns out, they couldn't have. A computer programming error has prevented any number from being selected more than once in Cash 3 and Cash 4 drawings over the past three weeks, the Tennessee Lottery said Tuesday.
The error meant that no winning draw included duplicate numerals, so any ticket holder who had bet on a number such as 2-2-1 or 7-7-7-7, or Johnson's 909, wasn't going to win.
"Yeah, I'm upset about it," said Johnson, who estimates he spent about $50 in the past three weeks on Cash 3.
"That's a whole lot of money. A lot of people lost a lot of money."
The lottery doesn't know how many tickets were affected. Rebecca Hargrove, chief of the state lottery, said roughly 1 million Cash 3 tickets and 500,000 Cash 4 tickets are sold each week.
A news release from the lottery blamed the problem on "a human error made by an outside, third-party vendor."
Hargrove said a programmer for the vendor, New Jersey-based Smartplay International Inc., made a keystroke error when setting the parameters for Cash 3 and Cash 4, typing a "u" for "unique" instead of an "r" for "repeat."
A second third-party vendor, New Jersey-based Gaming Laboratories Inc., also erred by certifying that the drawings were random and complied with the rules of the games, Hargrove said.
"We are investigating any legal options that we have," Hargrove said, adding that the error was corrected Monday night.
Players who picked duplicate numbers and still have their tickets can get a double refund for each ticket or two free plays equal to the play amount on the ticket, the lottery said.
Players want refunds
Barbara Birdsong, a cashier at the Bill Martin grocery store in east Nashville, said about a dozen customers came in Tuesday wanting to know how they could get their money back.
"One man said he had 100 tickets he'd been saving," Birdsong said.
The cashier wishes she were so lucky. She said she plays 4889, her grandmother's birth date and age, almost every day but doesn't save her tickets.
"One day I'll hit it big, so it doesn't bother me," Birdsong said.
Hargrove said Tuesday that the problem was discovered because lottery officials realized no duplicate numbers had been drawn between July 28, when the computerized drawings began, and Aug. 20, an indication that something was wrong.
Hendersonville resident M. L. Lemmonds said he knew that before the lottery announced the problem.
"Randomly selected over several drawings, there should be two or three like digits 28 percent of the time in a three digit number," Lemmonds said in a letter to WKRN television station, which broadcasts the drawings.
"Since you have changed the method of the drawings, there have been 41 drawings. None of the drawings have contained two or more like digits." [Editor: There have actually been 82 flawed drawings, including the Pick 4 drawings.)
The Tennessee Lottery began using computerized drawings, instead of manual drawings with numbered balls, last month.
For those who play Cash 3 or Cash 4 for the next 23 days, from Aug. 22 until Sept. 13, the lottery will offer additional cash prizes.
Players can win up to $599 in Cash 3 and up to $6,000 in Cash 4. Players normally can win up to $500 for Cash 3 and $5,000 for Cash 4.