Connie Johnson got one of the very first scratch-off cards for the Nebraska Lottery's new Christmas game, Holiday Bonus Bucks.
In fact, the lady at Russ's Market, where Johnson goes to get prescriptions filled, hadn't even opened the packets for the new lottery game.
"Have you got anything new?" Johnson asked. The woman opened the new game tickets.
Johnson bought four of them, drove home, did a little house work, then sat down and scratched one.
"It said I won $1,000!"
Johnson was thrilled. She'd never won anything, and $1,000 would come in handy to the widow who was stretched financially and emotionally.
Johnson has been taking care of her sister-in-law, who has Alzheimer's. That's been time-consuming and draining.
One thousand dollars was a special gift. So she wrote out a quick list: $200 to a relative who's having some problems; Johnson's car tires are bald, so new tires went on the list; $100 to a friend who recently lost her job.
And then, whatever was left over she would set aside for Christmas. She was hoping for $300.
Johnson knew she couldn't cash out a winning ticket that large at the retailer, and she lives just a few blocks from the lottery office.
But first she called the office and read off her winning combination.
"Well, that's not showing on my computer," the employee said.
So Johnson took her ticket to the office.
"This is strange. I see why you think you've won. You've got the right symbols," said the lottery employee.
The employee excused herself and went into another area.
"She came back out with a purple lottery winner T-shirt and gave it to me," Johnson said.
Then a manager came out and asked her to fill out the back of the card. There seemed to be some question about whether she had actually won.
"We'll get back to you. I've got to make some calls," she was told.
So Johnson left with her purple winner's T-shirt, but no $1,000.
She has since been told she's not a winner. The tickets were incorrectly printed. They don't match with the predetermined winning combinations that are recorded on a game file available to lottery staff.
Nebraska Lottery quickly closed down that game, not too long after Johnson showed up with her not-so-winning ticket.
The next day, Johnson remembered the other three tickets. So she scratched them off. And she had several $40,000 winning combinations.
Once more she drove to the lottery office and filled out some big, long forms. But by then, Johnson had resigned herself to the fact "that this was a horrendous nightmare."
Ten days later, she saw information about the game on the lottery website, indicating the lottery was hoping to get compensation for the players from the company that printed the tickets, International Game Technology.
But in early November, right after her 71st birthday, she got a "Dear John" letter telling her the negotiations with IGT had not been successful. So there would be no money.
State law says there will be no prize money paid for tickets produced or issued in error, says Brian Rockey, state lottery director.
The lottery gets working papers when a game is ordered, showing what the prizes are, and what the winning combinations will be.
"That is the road map," Rockey said.
The law is aimed at preventing someone from altering a ticket or submitting a fraudulent claim, said Rockey. So when the ticket deviates from the game plan, the state cannot pay out.
The winner amounts on erroneously printed tickets varied from a few dollars to a few $40,000 prizes, he said.
That game was to have just three $40,000 winners, he said.
Some people actually have winning combinations.
In fact, the state lottery had received 150 of the approximately 400 Holiday Bonus Bucks tickets sold and determined that 18 tickets were official winning tickets; 50 tickets were printed in error and had won a prize less than the prize shown on the ticket and 82 tickets were printed in error and did not win a prize based on the official game file, but appeared to win prizes because of the incorrectly printed symbols.
"We've never had anything like this, to this degree. It was a real fluke. I'm glad we were able to catch it when we did or there would be many more disappointed people," Rockey said.
He said the lottery staff did some research around the country to see how other lotteries handled these kinds of errors. None of them paid the prizes.
"It's not ideal by any stretch. We have tried to be as responsive and up front as we can be," he said.
Johnson has heard about other players with winning cards that weren't winners. A Grand Island man, Chad Keezer, had a $40,000 erroneously printed ticket.
In her last letter from the lottery, Johnson was given coupons for $100 in scratch cards and copies of her non-winning tickets to use in a second-chance drawing. But she is not very excited about playing the lottery these days.
Johnson is disappointed.
Disappointed she didn't win $1,000, let alone $40,000.
Disappointed that the issue was handled so poorly, with no personal notification to people who thought they had winning tickets, until after the information was on the website.
Disappointed that her winnings are $100 in coupons for lottery tickets and a T-shirt that says she is a winner, when she is not.
At least the T-shirt is purple, she says.
"That is my favorite color. Maybe I could wear it inside-out."