Streams of winning lottery tickets were printed in South Carolina because of a computer glitch on Christmas Day, officials said, and the potential winnings could total as much as $19.6 million if they are validated.
Customers began to notice the phenomenon at ticket vendors like the Ball Mart convenience store and gas station in the city of Liberty, about 20 miles west of Greenville, S.C.
Wade Crenshaw, 61, was working behind the cash register there when he saw that more people were coming in search of a particular game, the Holiday Cash Add-a-Play.
The rush lasted only about 30 minutes before the game was shut down, Mr. Crenshaw said in an interview on Saturday. But during that time, seven or eight people won hundreds and hundreds of dollars each. It was too much for Mr. Crenshaw to cash out.
“They’d been to several other stores, just going around buying 10 tickets” at each vendor, Mr. Crenshaw said. “It was weird, everybody winning so much. I didn’t know if they were doing some kind of Christmas special.”
It wasn’t a Christmas special — it was a computer error.
The vendor for the South Carolina Education Lottery computer system, Intralot, experienced a programming error, the state agency said in a statement on Wednesday.
The lottery said on Friday in another statement that it would set aside $19.6 million in potential winnings while directing its staff “to continue its legal research and investigation, including seeking further cooperation from Intralot and the potential validation of claims.”
It remains unclear whether the winning tickets will be honored, and the board of the lottery agency plans to meet to discuss the issue before the end of January. Game instructions online lay out the responsibilities of ticket buyers but say nothing about what happens in cases of software problems.
Intralot, which offers lottery and gaming services globally, could not be reached on Saturday. Representatives of the state lottery, which was closed for the holidays, did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
The holiday edition of Add-a-Play, a seasonal game, works like tick-tack-toe.
Players have a grid of nine boxes, each with a Christmas or winter-related image, like a snowflake, a stocking or a candle. The winning image was the Christmas tree. If there are three in a row — horizontally, vertically or diagonally — the player wins a cash prize.
For each grid, players can win a maximum of $100. Up to five grids can be placed on a single ticket. For about two hours on the evening of Christmas Day, many players were surprised to find all of their grids filled entirely with star-topped evergreens. It was not immediately clear how many players were affected.
Lottery players in South Carolina who tried to cash in on their Christmas Add-a-Play winnings after the game was shut down received slips that said “Transaction Not Allowed,” but the state advised them to hold onto their tickets while it decides what to do.
Add-a-Play tickets cannot be purchased alone. They can be bought only with a ticket from another game, like the Pick 4 or the Palmetto Cash 5. That didn’t stop players like Nicole Coggins of Liberty, who won, tried her luck again, saw the pattern and kept going, enlisting her mother-in-law to help.
Ms. Coggins told WYFF News 4 that they spent about $100 and won thousands of dollars, only to learn that the winnings were not guaranteed.
She had promised her children they would go to a Disney theme park, she said, adding, “I had been promising them for years and I thought I would finally get to, and now I can’t.”
Lottery glitches are uncommon but not unheard-of. A machine in Arizona reportedly generated the same sequence of numbers multiple times last month, and the same thing happened for several Keno games in Delaware in 2015.
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