Thank You Miami Herald

Lottery Terminals Err And That's A Fact

Texas Has This Problem Too ... Proof Below!

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The Lotto Report

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Originally Posted: November 25, 2002

As it appeared in the Miami Herald
March 9, 2002

Lotto Letdown
Machines could err, so check numbers before tossing tickets


Have you checked your Fantasy 5 or Lotto jackpot ticket at a lottery machine recently and gotten the message that you're not a winner?

Don't trash your ticket just yet. You might want to double check it.

One state lottery official estimated the machines have a .01 percent chance of giving a false reading on a winning ticket.

Slim odds for sure, but such is the nature of the lottery.

Sumire Sugimoto of Weston, who spends $4 a week on the Florida Lotto, was shocked recently to find that the machine at her local Publix didn't register her winning ticket.

''People spend hundreds of dollars on these tickets, and if there's a possibility the machines aren't working right, there could be a big scandal,'' Sugimoto said. ``You don't buy these tickets to give to the education system.''

There are 11,500 lotto machines in gas stations, liquor stores, convenience stores and all Publix, Albertsons, Sedanos and Winn-Dixie supermarkets in Florida. These machines scan lottery tickets, and if they find winning numbers, the store will pay the ticket-holder up to $599.99.

''Anything's possible,'' said a Florida Lottery spokesman. ``It's a machine -- it's a computer that runs on a telephone wire from the main headquarters.''

Leo DiBenigno, assistant secretary for public affairs for the Florida Lottery, says he can't recall an incident where a machine misread a ticket. But he advises that consumers double-check the lotto numbers before throwing their tickets in the trash.

''When you're dealing with potentially millions of dollars, it makes sense'' to check the newspaper, watch the live draws on television and log on to the Florida Lottery Web site, DiBenigno said.

Sugimoto, who double-checked her lottery numbers on the Web site, now has to mail in a claim form to collect her winnings. She has 180 days from the date of the draw to claim her prize -- $4.50.

''We go with what the machine says,'' said Amy Wilkins, the Publix store manager in Weston Lakes Plaza. They then call the Fort Lauderdale district office, one of 11 in the state, to verify the numbers again.

The machines, which are a year old, are serviced by Automated Wagering Inc., DiBenigno said, noting that it's important to ensure the accuracy of the machines.

''If we can't get that right, then the entire confidence of the playing public is called into question,'' he said.

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- End Miami Herald Story -

Now, about Texas' Lottery Terminals ...

Texas has this problem too. I've been hearing this complaint from players for the past several years but it wasn't until the Miami Herald story appeared that I began digging deeper and asking players for those tickets. It's taken a while for me to find a player who would go public with his story but I finally found one.

Since I posted this tidbit last year, I've received a number of emails from players who were extremely upset when they heard that lottery terminals could err ...

One message said it all so I want to share a portion of it with you about this situation. The message read, "... Lotto terminals giving wrong information is big, big news. Validation of this if confirmed, should be pounded and pounded hard. A real disgrace to be uncovered by the players as opposed to the officials ..."

Well, here is the proof.

See a winning ticket (pdf) that lottery terminals say isn't a winner - but it is. This ticket cannot be paid by a retailer. It has been scanned in and manually typed in 5 times by 3 different retailers but each time the terminal says, "Sorry, not a winner." By manually typing in the validation numbers, the ticket should show up as a winner. But it does NOT.

I predict that the TLC will attempt to claim they had "terminal problems" when the Cash 5 promotion was going on which was when this ticket was purchased. However, this ticket is NOT a promotional ticket, it was a $1 single purchase and it was bought on the day they unexpectedly canceled the promotion. The promo was canceled at 10 am on Aug. 16. Plus I attempted to collect on it as late as Nov. 18, 2002.

Not only that, but I also possess one other ticket that will not pay either. But I can't expose that one because the player will not go public. It was purchased before Cash 5 was ever changed. The reason the player won't pursue the issue is because they are on welfare and foods stamps and are not suppose to be purchasing lottery products. This is all I will say about the second ticket.

The TLC is aware that I have both of these tickets.

Last March 2002 ...

I contacted the Texas Lottery Commission and inquired about the possibility of Texas' terminals giving false readings. I asked two basic questions. One, are they aware of this ever happening and second, is it possible that a machine could say a ticket is not a winner when it was in fact, a winner?

The first answer was vague, they said yes and no all in the same breath. Regarding the second question, they said, yes, anything is possible. They further explained that if a ticket has been folded or if it has a mark on it or if something was spilled on it, then, yes, it IS possible the machine could misread the code.

A vast majority of lottery tickets are checked by the terminals only ... So players never know when the terminals misread their tickets.

How can players complain about something they have no knowledge of? How could the TLC ever know how bad this situation is under these circumstances?

Could this be why the Unclaimed Prize fund was $393,804,291.47 as of Aug. 31, 2002?

I confess, I've wondered countless times how is it that so many players never claim their prizes. Like the $13 million "unclaimed" Lotto Texas ticket from Houston and the unclaimed $9 million lotto ticket from Dallas (July 13, 2002) that's gone unclaimed - did those players take their "unchecked" tickets to a retailer and did the retailers terminal misread their tickets? Were those tickets trashed?

Wouldn't that be a blessing for the state?

Retailers Complaints

Checking tickets for players is another of the many complaints retailers have. Retailers make a nickel for each $1 ticket sold. The retailer considers this "one transaction." His initial profit was a nickel for selling the ticket.

When players bring their "unchecked" tickets in and ask him to run it through his terminal to see if the ticket is a winner, well, this makes the "second transaction" for the retailer. But ... this time there is no profit for the time spent. This ultimately means the retailer earned two and one half cents per transaction.

The Solution

It is my opinion that the TLC should require players to check their own tickets by forbidding retailers to provide this courtesy. If players are too busy or too lazy to check their own tickets, then the winnings are truly "unclaimed."

The only tickets that retailers should run through their terminals are the tickets where the player says, "I have a winning ticket and I need to collect my winnings." This should apply to all tickets, especially scratch offs.

Since it has absolutely been determined that the terminals can and do err and the TLC IS aware of it, then it is time for us to ask the retailers to start refusing customers requests who just want their tickets "checked."

If clerks simply tell their customers that the terminals "could" misread their tickets and this is why he won't check the tickets, then that retailer would have a happy, satisfied customer because he is protecting them. If the customer is not happy, then the retailer hasn't lost anything.

Texas Lottery Retailers care and they listen to their customers - I can assure you, if we as a group ask, they will be more than happy to take matters into their own hands in spite of the TLC.

Under FAQ on the TLC web site you will find this question and answer

Q: My ticket didn't validate, even though I know it's a winner.

A: There are several reasons why this might happen. Call 1-800-375-6886 toll-free during normal business hours (M-F 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Central Time) and ask to speak with the Claim Center. They can give you further instructions on how to proceed.

You can also take the ticket directly to the Texas Lottery Claim Center nearest you. They will accept the ticket and validate it there, or send it to Texas Lottery headquarters for processing, if necessary.

I think this sums it up. Somebody has to protect the consumers and it's obvious the TLC won't voluntarily protect their players. Neither will the Attorney General. He claims he has no jurisdiction over state agencies - he is after all - the TLC's attorney!

All of this is very wrong.


The Lotto Report
P. O. Box 495033
Garland, Texas 75049-5033
(972) 686-0660
(972) 686-1188 Fax

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