It should have been so easy for the five-member team in charge of a Jan. 1 lottery drawing to enter and verify the right numbers in a machine that electronically selected the winners of the Connecticut Lottery Corp.'s "New Year's $1,000,000 Super Draw" game.
Such an easy thing, but now so many problems.
The team members had the benefit of illustrated, step-by-step instructions that you or I could follow — in the form an "Official Drawing Procedures" manual for the game in which $10 tickets were dispensed from electronic terminals in retail lottery stores.
The manual emphasized that ticket numbers went upward from a low of 100001 — so the second ticket would be 100002, the third 100003, and so on. Ultimately, 214,601 tickets were sold, so the range of eligible tickets should have been 100001 at the low end, and 314,601 at the top end. The manual cautioned that the top eligible number "must be adjusted by 100,000 to represent the increase."
It even gave an illustrated example of that, saying that if 275,000 tickets were sold, the top number would be 100,000 plus 275,000 for a sum of 375,000 — and it had a picture of 375000 entered in the machine's "Upper Range" display window.
For the actual drawing on Jan. 1, the "Upper Range" number should have been entered as 314601 — which is the sum of 214,601, the number of tickets sold, plus the 100,000 "adjustment." But a lottery employee on the team instead entered 214601 — forgetting the "adjustment" and thus omitting the 100,000 higher-numbered tickets from 214602 through 314601 that should have been eligible.
Two observers on the team, who were there to verify the numbers were entered properly, didn't catch what's turned into a million-dollar blunder — and now there will have to be a yet-unscheduled second drawing at an additional cost of $1.375 million.
The clarity of the procedural manual, obtained by Government Watch via a Freedom of Information Act request, emphasizes the magnitude of what the lottery described as a "human error."
And day by day, it's all turning into a bigger mess.
Now state Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, is saying he may seek to call another round of investigative hearings into the operations of the quasi-public lottery corporation.
Verrengia convened two hearings last May, as co-chairman of the General Assembly's public safety committee, that focused on months of turmoil at the lottery after its former CEO quit in September 2016 during an investigation of a fraud scheme that forced shutdown of the 5 Card Cash game in 2015.
"Unfortunately the Connecticut Lottery continues to be in the news for all the wrong reasons," Verrengia said in an interview. "The fact that another game has been compromised, this time to the tune of over $1 million, is unacceptable whether through human error or otherwise. And it's these types of incidents that continue to erode public confidence in the lottery."
He said "as co-chair of the committee of cognizance, I intend to hold accountable" not only the lottery corporation, but also the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) which regulates the lottery, and the lottery's independent consulting firm, Marcum LLP. The lottery had two representatives on the five-member drawing team, the DCP two, and Marcum one.
One of the lottery representatives had the job of entering the numbers, which then were supposed to be verified by one of the DCP employees and the representative of Marcum, according to Lora Rae Anderson, communications director for the DCP.
Verrengia said he'll wait until both the lottery and DCP complete separate investigations that each has begun into its part of the drawing screw-up. He said he expects that "those investigations will be completed in a timely manner, at which point a decision will be made whether to hold [another] public informational hearing." The most important things are "ensuring the integrity of the games and making sure all players are made whole," he said.
In addressing the mess, the lottery corporation says it will honor the 1,311 winning tickets in the flawed Jan. 1 drawing — a single $1-million winner, 10 winners of $20,000, 50 winners of $1,000, and 1,250 winning tickets worth $100 each, for a total of $1.375 million in prizes.
Also, lottery officials say they'll schedule a make-up drawing in a few days that will include all 214,601 tickets, as the first one should have, with another $1.375 million in prizes. That, of course, means the lottery will lose money on the game, because it will be paying out $2.75 million on $2,146,010 in ticket sales.
The lottery put out a statement Friday saying that it "hopes to announce the date of the additional ... drawing soon" and is working with the DCP and its vendor for the game, Scientific Games, "on software changes that will allow the gaming system to recognize a win from both the January 1, 2018 drawing as well as the upcoming drawing."
Unfair, Players Say
Even before the new date is set, though, the remedial drawing already is being blasted as unfair by lottery players. They note that people with tickets included in the flawed drawing get two shots at winning, while holders of the 100,000 tickets left out on Jan. 1 get only one shot.
One player, Ed Flemmig of Orange — who spent $500 to buy 50 tickets that were excluded from the Jan. 1 drawing — emailed Chelsea Turner, the lottery's interim president/CEO, on Friday to say that "in my mind, myself and the other holders of the 100,000 excluded ticket are still being treated unfairly." He offered "to gift my tickets to the charity of your choice in the event that this can be resolved in an equitable manner."
One solution players have proposed is that the lottery — even if it insists on holding a second drawing involving all 214,601 tickets sold — should even things out by holding a third drawing involving only the excluded 100,000 tickets. The additional $1.375 million cost would still be a "drop in the bucket" — compared to $1.2 billion in annual ticket sales — to maintain players' trust, said lottery player Jeff Houde of Haddam.
"Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution," the lottery said Wednesday on its website. "Some players have asked why not do a second drawing for only the 100,000 tickets that were omitted from the first drawing? Although at first glance, that may sound fair, it only compounds the initial error."
One problem is that some players may have thrown away still-eligible tickets that were still being read as losers by electronic scanners at retail lottery outlets Monday night, hours after the problem was announced in mid-afternoon by means including the lottery website.
Too Late Catching Error
The failure to include the 100,000 tickets in the upper range wasn't discovered until after the winning numbers were posted publicly on lottery website, the DCP's Anderson said, and once those numbers went public, there was no voiding the results.
Turner, the lottery's interim CEO, said in an email Friday that "the numbers were posted to our website at approximately 12:15–12:20. The drawing began at approximately 11:00 AM and concluded at approximately 12:06 PM.... At approximately 12:30 PM, a lottery employee noticed the issue when the employee checked to make sure the website had been updated with the winning numbers. Around this same time, consumers began asking questions. "
Two lottery employees have been placed on paid administrative leave and told to stay away from work during the agency's investigation of the flawed drawing. The two DCP employees who were at the drawing remain on the job, but won't be assigned to any drawings during DCP's own investigation, Anderson said. Asked if the lottery is contemplating any action regarding Marcum, such as withholding payment, Turner said only, "At this time, our first priority is conducting CT Super Draw 14 in accordance with the Game Rules and Drawing Procedures and making our players as whole as possible."
The lottery paid Marcum $60,800 in 2017.
Marcum, for its part, issued a statement Friday: "Marcum LLP is cooperating fully" with the lottery and DCP "to help develop an understanding of what transpired during the January 1, 2018 Super Draw Game #14. We will continue to assist as needed to help resolve all remaining questions regarding our agreed upon procedures engagement pertaining to the above-mentioned drawing."
Meanwhile, the lottery has put a list of answers to "frequently asked questions" on its website. Those include instructions for players who threw away tickets to fill out a claim form in hopes of convincing the lottery to reinstate their tickets by providing details on where and when they bought them. Judging by the cautions and disclaimers on the form, prospects of a successful claim aren't at all guaranteed.
No permanent CEO has yet been hired at the lottery, 15 months after Anne Noble stepped down from the job. A national search was delayed in mid-2017 when a top candidate turned down a job offer, and four finalists were interviewed in November. Three are from out of state and one is believed to be Turner, who clearly has some support among the lottery corporation's board of directors members. How the new problems that erupted Jan. 1 may affect the timing of the hiring decision, or the decision itself, is unknown.