COLUMBIA, SC (FOX 46 WJZY) - South Carolina lottery players who 'won' playing the Holiday Cash Add-A-Play game on Christmas due to a glitch were falsely told their tickets would be honored, a Fox 46 investigation has learned.
The glitch has now sparked an audit and a class action lawsuit.
Two dozen phone calls released as part of a public records request reveals store clerks were worried when more than 42,000 winning tickets were printed over two hours. In some cases, the clerks said when customers saw what was happening, they took advantage.
One player told FOX 46 he knew something wasn't right but noted "it's not my fault."
Intralot, the vendor that runs the game's equipment and technology and handled calls about the game, blamed the snafu on a glitch. In the middle of the confusion, calls show the company promised players and business owners that the tickets would be honored.
An employee directed store clerks to tell players to go to lottery headquarters to get them redeemed.
"So the tickets printed for the customers are those going to be valid?," one clerk asks.
"Yes," said an Intralot employee.
"OK. So they did actually win the money?," asked the clerk.
"Yes," said the Intralot employee, who told another caller: "Any ticket purchased before it went down will get honored."
Another store employee who called expressed concern over the amount that would be paid out if the tickets were honored.
"They'll be rich if they keep their ticket," the caller said.
"Yes," the Intralot employee said, aware that multiple customers were buying winning tickets, fully aware, and taking advantage of the glitch.
"They'll be able to redeem that ticket," the Intralot employee reassured business owners.
But South Carolina Education Lottery officials tell FOX 46 "Intralot did not have the authority to commit the Lottery to anything."
"We now have litigation from players and I do not feel comfortable commenting further," said Tim Madden, the attorney representing the lottery commission. "The independent audit remains underway and we do not have a report from that and the board has not yet made a decision whether to pay or not pay the Dec. 25 tickets."
With $35.5 million at stake, more than 20 players are now suing. In a class action lawsuit, the players accuse lottery officials of "engaging in unfair and deceptive acts" by not paying out the money in a timely manner.
"I have Add-A-Play tickets and I thought I won on those tickets," said one person who left a message with the lottery office, saying he needed the money. "I'm really disappointed. I hope you'll pay those tickets off at the full price."
FOX 46 has reported previously that, under state law, lottery officials can't pay out the prize if the tickets were produced or issued in error. Legal experts say the phrase "in error" will likely be the center of a lawsuit, especially when Intralot employees referred to the tickets as valid.
Despite an employee saying the tickets would be honored, a spokesperson for the Greek company, Chris Sfatos, said that "it is not the position of our company."
"We cooperate fully with SCEL in resolving the situation," said Sfatos in an e-mail. "And we refrain from public statements on this case per request of our client."