The Connecticut Lottery and state Department of Consumer Protection shut down the 5 Card Cash game after noticing there were more winners than the game's parameters should have allowed, and determining that some lottery agents were manipulating machines to print more winning tickets and fewer losers.
The investigation is ongoing, Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said Friday afternoon, but lottery retailers found to have cheated could face criminal charges.
"Loss of license is just the beginning," Harris said. "They could go to jail for this."
The Connecticut Lottery and its contractor are working on a software update to eliminate the problem. Sales of the popular lottery game could resume next week. People who hold winning 5 Card Cash tickets cannot cash in their tickets until the game resumes. Harris said lottery and consumer protection employees will work through the weekend to get the game back online as soon as possible.
"This is an isolated incident with a specific game and it's important that it was detected and that we are determining the causes and fixing the game," Harris said. "The integrity of the lottery is of prime importance."
Just how some lottery agents were able to manipulate their machines is not clear, but investigators believe there was a vulnerability between the time a ticket was ordered at a terminal and when it was printed.
"They were able to slow down the machine and pull up a history," Harris said. "Slowing down the machine meant that somehow there was a delay in the time a ticket was generated to when it was printed."
During that delay, some agents were able to determine whether the ticket waiting to print was a winner or a loser, he said. They would void the losing ticket, but allow the winning ticket to print, he said.
Harris said he does not think those who manipulated the system were sophisticated hackers, but rather people who were able to figure out how the lottery terminals work.
As for how many agents and terminals were involved, "That's the part we still don't know," Harris said. It's also not clear how much money was lost, Harris said.
If there is any good news in this problem, Harris said, it's that people who purchased tickets were not hurt.
Lora Rae Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer Protection, said the fact there were more winners than there should have been raised a flag.
The 5 Card Cash game features two ways for players to win. There's an instant component and then a daily televised drawing. For the instant game, a five-card playing card hand is printed on each ticket. If the hand matches one of 10 winning combinations, the ticket is a winner.
The Connecticut Lottery and the state Department of Consumer Protection were alerted to the possibility of problems involving 5 Card Cash a year ago. A lottery retailer in Weston was accused of holding back winning tickets and selling losing tickets to unsuspecting customers. State authorities were alerted and suspended the retailer's license to sell lottery tickets. The license was later restored.
"We encourage consumers to actually take a look and make sure their ticket is coming out of the terminal," Anderson said.
Through a spokesperson, Anne Noble, Connecticut Lottery president and CEO, refused to respond to questions about the game and the suspension.