Thousands of South Carolinians Won the Lottery on Christmas Because of a Computer Glitch

Man who just won the lottery.
For a brief moment, he was a winner.
yacobchuk/Thinkstock

Thousands of South Carolinian lottery players won’t get to cash in on what they thought were winning tickets last Christmas. A holiday-themed lottery tic-tac-toe game only lasted two hours before the South Carolina Education Lottery pulled the plug due to a computer glitch—but the damage was done.

Ticket holders who cashed in immediately collected about $1.7 million, according to The New York Times. And the invalid winnings would have totaled around $35 million, according to Tim Madden, an attorney representing the state lottery.

That prompted the South Carolina Education Lottery to conduct a months-long independent investigation (via gaming testing and certification firm Gaming Laboratories International), while players simultaneously held their tickets and breath.

The results are out now. The lottery released a statement on May 30 confirming that a coding error by its former computer gaming vendor, Intralot, was responsible for the approximately 71,000 erroneous plays that were produced. “Regrettably, these errors by the formal vendor led loyal players to mistakenly believe that they held winning tickets,” reads the statement. “While SCEL is mindful of the magnitude of this decision on its players, any other decision would not comply with the law.”

That law stipulates that “prizes arising from a ticket produced or issued in error must not be paid.” In other words, ticket holders can now turn in their slips for a prize—their money back. But the lottery won’t pay out the erroneous winnings. And it needs players who cashed in immediately to return their winnings, according to Madden. (Each winning ticket was worth $500.)

Easier said than done. There are already two lawsuits in the works filed against the state lottery and Intralot, on behalf of ticket holders. Lawyers like Tom Ervin, who are representing the plaintiffs, are advising players not to send in the tickets for reimbursement yet due to the pending suits.

The South Carolina lottery has had software glitches in the past, causing it to temporarily suspend sales and cash-outs for its Pick Three and Pick Four games. It’s not immediately clear how many players were affected.

South Carolina’s lottery has been lucrative for educational programs and scholarships within the state. The state legislature has appropriated more than $5 billion since the lottery began in 2002. If you were one of the unlucky lucky winners in South Carolina and want your erroneous prize, well, think about the children.