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Computerized lottery drawings not problem-free

Aug 10, 2009, 9:22 am

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Arkansas LotteryArkansas Lottery: Computerized lottery drawings not problem-freeRating:

MUSL director Strutt says "Small group of players don't like them"

Passailaigue says players superstitious, "spooked" by changes in draw format

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas lottery officials say their decision to use a computer to generate winning numbers when lottery games start this fall makes economic sense, but the use of computerized drawings by lotteries in other states has not been free of problems.

In July 2007, the Tennessee Education Lottery moved to save costs by doing away with its televised drawings of numbered pingpong balls and using a computer to generate random numbers. For the next three weeks, each winning number contained no two digits alike, which appeared to defy probability.

Lottery officials said a vendor had inadvertently programmed the computer not to duplicate any numbers. They offered a double refund to all players who picked numbers that couldn't win, provided they saved their losing tickets.

The Kansas Lottery encountered a problem in December 2005, when the winning numbers announced for the Pick 3 game were identical three nights in row. By the third night, so many people picked the apparently lucky number that the lottery had to pay out nearly twice what it made in ticket sales.

Officials determined that a computer problem caused the repetition. They offered coupons for free tickets to players who bought losing tickets for the three games.

In July of last year, Kansas lottery officials said another glitch had occurred, resulting in three winning numbers in the Pick 3 game being incorrectly reported. Players were allowed to collect prizes for both the correct numbers and the numbers reported in error.

Some say the savings from computerized drawings are outweighed by a loss in public confidence in the drawings.

With computerized drawings, "the public loses the ability to see the actual drawing on live broadcast television," an editorial on the Web site Lottery Post states. "While the state lotteries may see a live broadcast of a drawing as unnecessary overhead, many people view it as an essential way to maintain their confidence in fair drawings."

Lottery Post has launched a national petition drive to ask Congress to ban computerized lottery drawings. By late Friday afternoon, 5,410 people had signed the petition online, including a handful of Arkansans.

The problems the Kansas Lottery experienced did not cause players to lose confidence in the games, according to spokeswoman Sally Lunsford.

"We were very forthcoming about what happened and we did our best to rectify the situation," she said. "Obviously we felt badly about it, but I think we have a long history of integrity, and I don't think it greatly affected that."

The Kansas Lottery generated $230 million in gross ticket sales in fiscal 2009, a 2.6 percent drop from the previous year. Lunsford said she did not believe the sales figures signaled a decline in public confidence.

"Considering the economic year we've had, I don't think we're too distressed about them," she said.

The multi-state game Powerball, which the Arkansas Lottery Commission has chosen to join, uses a combination of a random number generator and live drawings. It has never gone completely to computerized drawings because of "a small group of players who don't like them," said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association.

"Some members of the public feel they're not as random ... which I find kind of odd, because everybody can sit down and figure out how they're going to cheat a physical drawing," he said.

Strutt noted that plotters rigged a live drawing in Pennsylvania in 1980 by weighting every ball except 4 and 6, virtually guaranteeing that the winning number would be a combination of 4s and 6s. After the plot was exposed, the chief conspirators went to prison and the Pennsylvania Lottery heightened its security measures.

No known cases of cheating have occurred with computerized drawings, Strutt said.

Arkansas Lottery Director Ernie Passailaigue has said building a studio and purchasing equipment for live drawings would cost $1.7 million, and holding the drawings would cost $800,000 or more a year.

A random number generator, on the other hand, would cost about $100,000 to purchase, program and test, and would cost nothing to operate, allowing more lottery proceeds to go to college scholarships, according to Passailaigue.

In an interview Friday, Passailaigue said Arkansas' lottery will have tight security.

"You have to ensure that the players understand the degree of security over the numbers being generated by a computer as opposed to a ball set," he said. "That format has an equal degree of integrity. Once the players understand that, there's going to be no issue about it."

The South Carolina Education Lottery, which Passailaigue ran before taking over as Arkansas' lottery director July 1, has held live drawings since the games started in 2002. Switching from one method to another is difficult, Passailaigue said.

"What happens in lottery states, when you start off with a traditional live drawing with the ball sets, people get used to that. ... A lot of lottery players are superstitious. Any change in that format tends to spook them," he said.

Passailaigue said the Texas Lottery's drawings in its television studio have turned into "a non-event and a waste of money" because players have lost interest in watching them, but the lottery hasn't changed its method because "the player base is used to that format."

Texas Lottery spokesman Bobby Heith did not immediately return a phone message Friday, but he recently told the Dallas Morning News the lottery's drawings are open to the public — though local television stations have stopped broadcasting them live — because "people like to see those balls drop. ... It lends to the security and confidence in the games."

Arkansas News Bureau

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9 comments. Last comment 12 years ago by itsmyhouse.
Page 1 of 1
Todd's avatar - Cylon 200.jpg
Chief Bottle Washer
New Jersey
United States
Member #1
May 31, 2000
26512 Posts

I posted some comments on the Arkansas News site that originally posted this story, so I'll repeat my comments here:

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

It is too bad that the Arkansas News interviewed several representatives of state lotteries, yet failed to contact the person who wrote the original editorial and is keeping this issue of computerized drawings in the forefront.

By not contacting me, the Arkansas News has established the issue as a rather troubling one, but then did nothing but chip away at that concept by presenting several rather disingenuous and deceptive remarks by people in the industry with a stake in seeing computerized drawings continue.

Also, despite the fact that my editorial pointed to by this article outlined several important reasons why computerized drawings should never be used, the people interviewed for this story have decided to focus on the issue of the “randomness” of computerized drawings as if it were the only complaint that people have.

In fact, randomness of the drawings is only one of many problems, not the least of which is the fact that computerized drawings have a long history of disastrous glitches and errors, rendering millions of tickets purchased in several states completely worthless.

I am most saddened to read the remarks of Chuck Strutt, for whom I have respect, although frankly not in the area of computerized drawings.

First, to characterize opponents of computerized drawings as “a small group of people” is just plain wrong. There is a good reason why the state lotteries — and the vendors pushing computerized drawings — do not publish surveys about the subject. It’s because an overwhelming majority of lottery players do not want or trust them. To say that a “small group of people” is against having a computer select the winning numbers is willfully wrong.

Then, to point to an event in 1980 to try and paint real drawings as “bad” is oddly ironic. In fact, it points to the fact that people CANNOT get away with fixing a real lottery drawing — as opposed to the hundreds of flawed computerized drawings that have gone on in multiple states in which NOBODY KNEW THERE WAS A PROBLEM. Compounding the problem was that lottery directors (hat tip to Hargrove in Tennessee) tend to dismiss complaints from players about drawings with a distant wave of the hand, so they ignored the errors for a long time before finally decided to look in to them.

In case you have not felt the gravity of the problem, it has almost always been lottery players who detected a problem with the drawings — not the lottery itself. Isn’t that incredibly troubling? That the lottery staff knows so little about how the numbers are generated that they cannot even detect when a problem exists?

Mr. Strutt: please note that I have not made any complaints about the randomness of the drawings, so please stop using that as a foil to deflect the major problems 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!

    rcbbuckeye's avatar - Lottery-062.jpg
    United States
    Member #55887
    October 23, 2007
    12330 Posts

    I agree 100%. Unfortunately, the lottery directors ultimately will do what they decide to do, not what the players want. They forget that the people that buy the tics are the customers. I love how the drawings are conducted in Texas, and I believe that the commissioners in Tx are committed to total transparency. If they, God forbid, should ever decide to change to RNG, I would have to think long and hard about playing.

      konane's avatar - wallace
      Atlanta, GA
      United States
      Member #1265
      March 13, 2003
      6827 Posts

      Agree with you both.  Georgia also maintains its transparency by using ball drop draws and is considered one of the best lotteries in the US.  Others should make notes and follow suit.

      Have fun and the best of luck to everyone! Sun Smiley

        big3picker's avatar - speedykat
        United States
        Member #69144
        January 5, 2009
        189 Posts

        i also agree. the big problem is they are only watching out for themselves.  they come in and get these big salaries and then want to tell you how it will be done. it is a shame that we the players pay these big salaries and then they want to screw with us.

        i am all for lottery proceeds being spent on education, but then again it is we the lottery players that are adding the money to the cofers. it not for us then the only way to generate money for education is by raising taxes. and then again this is not right.

        the salaries, the set up of lottery, and all other expenses are paid for by us. so there is no direct payout from the cities or states. so therefor why can't the players have a vote in how they want their numbers drawn.  just my opion.

        Don't disregard a Hunch

              Hunches are another form of knowledge

          big3picker's avatar - speedykat
          United States
          Member #69144
          January 5, 2009
          189 Posts

          i'm also with konane.........vote them all out

          Don't disregard a Hunch

                Hunches are another form of knowledge

            beaudad's avatar - animaniacs26
            Mid Atlantic States
            United States
            Member #60041
            April 3, 2008
            1429 Posts

            the problem there in Arkansas is that only when the politicians started feeling the heat....from voters.....that the good idea for  lottery profits for education.....started to tarnish when they started publishing the salaries............  the public started getting upset ....so to cover their "rears" they decided to have Random Generated Drawings.......NOW to pay for their studio time with live drawings.......I'm sure any TV station in the state would "LOVE" to have the publicity with the draw machines on their station.....Because of the Nielson Ratings..................Yes and the problem with the "Switching to RNG after a LIVE drawing is that the Audience Prefers the Live Drawings FIRST.......NOT RNG First.........when politicians want to remove a "BAD IDEA TO BEGIN WITH" you're looking at perfect example..........And they HOPE the RNG is better than NO LOTTERY at all.................I for ONE REJECT the Random Generated Numbers and say....."LIGHTS....CAMERA......LOTTERY ACTION..............." beaudad....

            " I don't have a gambling problem,  I have a problem winning!"

              Littleoldlady's avatar - basket
              United States
              Member #487
              July 15, 2002
              17638 Posts

              "The Kansas Lottery encountered a problem in December 2005, when the winning numbers announced for the Pick 3 game were identical three nights in a row. By the third night, so many people picked the apparently lucky number that the lottery had to pay out nearly twice what it made in ticket sales".


              This has happened so many times in TN since the inception of the computerized draws till it is just plain sinful.

              If you know your number is going to hit, have patience and then KILL IT!

              You never know when you will get another hit.

                four4me's avatar - gate1
                United States
                Member #1701
                June 18, 2003
                10085 Posts

                Strutt said: No known cases of cheating have occurred with computerized drawings, .

                How can he say this he doesn't know, and just because nobody's been caught yet doesn't mean cheating isn't taking place.

                Indiana for example has the lowest payouts of any RNG state, lottery players there think the lottery is corrupted. How do the people know if a computer generated drawing isn't rigged in some way to de-select numbers that have been heavily played in favor of profits for the lottery by selecting low payout numbers and ingesting that info into a computerized drawing holding the drawing and paying out the bare minimal cash. 

                There is no excuse for a lottery to use software driven programs for pick 3/4/5/ drawings I don't care what the savings are or what costs are involved. Other than laziness i see no reason not to have ball drawings if you cant find a crew to do the work and conduct respectable ball drawings like many other states perform flawlessly nearly every day of the year. Then you are disrespecting the people whom play the lottery. 

                Ball drawings aren't clouded in mystery they are as cut and dry as it gets, ball drawings leave no doubt in the players mind as to what numbers were drawn. Computers can be manipulated in so many ways that there is no way to prove that they are conducting a legitimate drawing. 

                If a lottery wants to attract players then give them something everybody will be content with, conduct ball drawings and watch the money roll in. 

                Hold computer drawings and when a mistake is made and or discovered watch sales slip, profits drop, and player confidence disappear.   

                  New Member

                  United States
                  Member #67177
                  November 19, 2008
                  12 Posts

                  One of the employees of the tennessee lottery told me that the executives there "will do what THEY want to do, no matter what players might like."  In other words, as long as it benefits THEM (the executives), that's what happens.  It benefits them by lowering costs and under the veil of 'money for education', it's really 'money in my pocket because of our ridiculously high bonus structure'. 

                  It would be nice to have an investigative report on what's going on in tennessee, but someone in politics has declared "hands off the lottery", so there's barely a story at all about them here any more.