Editorial: Lottery Blunder Inexcusable

Printed instructions clearly showed how to enter ticket numbers for the CT Lottery’s Jan. 1 electronic drawing. But a 5-member team still got it wrong.

Printed instructions clearly showed how to enter ticket numbers for the CT Lottery’s Jan. 1 electronic drawing. But a 5-member team still got it wrong.

As far as screw-ups go, this one hit the jackpot.

The Connecticut Lottery Corp. made a colossal blunder when it drew the winners for its New Year’s $1 million Super Draw game — a blunder so big it cannot be fairly fixed. Nearly half of the tickets bought for the game were excluded from the pool from which the winners were drawn.

Those winners will be honored, but the lottery has called for a do-over with all the tickets included. It’s a million dollar error from a quasi-public agency that is still searching for a chief executive after the last one quit — with a fat severance package — in the wake of a fraud scandal.

Maybe quasi-public isn’t public enough. The public deserves a clearer understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes at the lottery headquarters.

This latest mistake stands out not for malfeasance but for stunning sloppiness. Somehow, all five people charged with ensuring the Jan. 1 drawing was done correctly managed to miss one very simple and clearly explained instruction. Those people — and the agencies they represent — should be held accountable. The group includes two people from the CT Lottery, two representatives from the Department of Consumer Protection and one from Marcum LLP, an independent auditor.

What happened? The CT Lottery sold 214,601 $10 tickets for this once-a-year game. All of the tickets sold were to be essentially put into a hat, and a computer randomly picked the winners — one for $1 million, 10 for $20,000, 50 for $1,000 and 1,250 for $100, for a total of $1.375 million.

Like ordinary raffle tickets, each ticket had a number printed on it. And like raffle tickets, the numbers were sequential and in a range — in this case, from 100001 to 314601 — one number for each of the 214,601 tickets sold for the game.

But whoever was entering the range in the computer on the day of the draw entered the number of tickets sold, 214,601, instead of the highest ticket number sold, 314,601. So the last 100,000 tickets sold were excluded from the pool from which the computer picked the winners.

The instructions for the drawing spelled out this potential pitfall and how to avoid it.

It’s hard to imagine how lottery officials, who should understand such gaming subtleties far better than the average layperson, could make such a mistake. It’s even harder to understand how five people with clearly delineated responsibilities for ensuring every step was taken could have missed the easiest step to screw up.

Meanwhile, there’s no good way to fix it. The lottery has said it’s going to honor the winners from the first draw but hold the drawing again, this time including all tickets. But it’s possible that some players threw their tickets away. It also gives players who hold tickets in the lower group of numbers — 100001 to 214601 — the chance to win twice.

Those who bought tickets are rightly annoyed.

Even if lottery officials were to try to adjust the odds in the second draw by somehow favoring those excluded from the first draw, there’s no way to ensure that all players now have the same odds. Nor can they invalidate the first drawing, because the winning tickets were posted on the lottery website shortly after the drawing.

Those who threw away tickets that were improperly excluded can file a claim, but the process of deciding if such claims are valid could take some time.

Officials say the goof will be paid for with unclaimed winnings, but the company paid to monitor the proceedings should have some responsibility as well.

State Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford told The Courant that he might seek investigative hearings into the affair. He should.

An internal investigation is underway in the meantime, and those responsible should be held accountable. Whoever becomes the new CEO should be prepared to make sweeping changes, and legislators should consider whether the CT Lottery needs more oversight.

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