COLUMBIA, SC (FOX 46 WJZY) - The lawyer representing 20 'winners' says the integrity of the South Carolina Education Lottery "is in question."
The class action lawsuit, spearheaded by attorney Bill Hopkins, is seeking "tens of millions" of dollars, he told FOX 46 exclusively. The suit alleges the more than 42,000 'winning' tickets mistakenly printed on Christmas are valid and should be honored.
Lottery officials are still trying to decide what to do with the $35.5 million in unpaid claims. Officials say a "glitch" is to blame.
"We don't believe there was a glitch," said Hopkins. "We have numerous players who were given a losing ticket at the same time they were given a winning ticket. That would clearly indicate there was no glitch that day. These games are tested by the Lottery, approved by the Lottery. If there is a problem with the Lottery-approved system or game the player should be paid."
At least $1.7 million was paid out on Christmas, lottery officials acknowledge, before the game was shut down and they called for an emergency review.
"Our clients went in and paid their hard earned money for these tickets," said Hopkins. "And when they came up winners the Lottery decided not to pay them....Our clients did nothing wrong."
Hopkins says his clients "are not wealthy people at all" and "need this money that's been denied to them."
His lawsuit, however, could hit a snag. As FOX 46 first reported, South Carolina state law prohibits paying out prizes if a game is "produced or issued in error."
Legal experts say any litigation will focus on what "in error" actually means.
Hopkins says he is also interested in what FOX 46 uncovered Thursday - that the game's vendor, Intralot, told business owners and players on Christmas that their 'winning' tickets were valid and would be honored.
"So the tickets that were printed for the customers are those going to be valid?," a store employee says in a recorded phone call obtained by FOX 46.
"Yes," said an Intralot employee.
"OK. So they did actually win that money?," the clerk asks.
"Yes," said Intralot.
Lottery officials say Intralot, which ran the game's computers and technology, "did not have the authority to commit the Lottery to anything."
According to Hopkins' investigation, lottery officials are looking to make Intralot pay out the prize, since it was their mistake.
Lottery officials declined to comment on that or the lawsuit.
Intralot has said previously they plan to cooperate with the Lottery's audit and investigation into what went wrong but declined to comment further "per request" of the Lottery.
Lotto officials are expected to file a response to the lawsuit by April, Hopkins said, adding his investigation and the class action lawsuit could stretch into next year.