For some unlucky South Carolina residents, what seemed to be a winning Christmas lottery ticket turned out to be a lump of coal.
A programming error in a lottery game that lasted for more than two hours generated an overabundance of winning tickets, prompting the game's suspension and an investigation, officials said Wednesday.
The snafu affected the Holiday Cash Add-A-Play tickets, a $1 terminal-generated instant game offered on Christmas Day. South Carolina Education Lottery officials have not said how many tickets were affected, or whether false payouts were made before the error was caught.
"From 5:51 p.m. to 7:53 p.m., the same play symbol was repeated in all nine available play areas on tickets which would result in a top prize of $500. No more than five identical play symbols should appear for a single play," the lottery said. "As soon as the issue was identified, the Add-A-Play game was suspended immediately to conduct a thorough investigation."
CNN affiliate WYFF cited a store manager describing a "frenzy," saying dozens of people "rushed in" to purchase winning tickets after word spread. But people soon learned they couldn't cash in.
That knocked the short-lived elation out of one woman. She thought she had enough money to take her kids to Disney World.
"I had been promising them for years and I thought I would finally get to, and now I can't," Nicole Coggins of Liberty told WYFF.
People who purchased the Holiday Cash Add-A-Play ticket during the affected time period "are advised to hold on to their ticket(s) until the review is completed. A further announcement will be made at the end of this week."
The error didn't affect Instant (scratch) tickets and other lottery games, the lottery said.
As for Coggins, she and her mother-in-law won "almost $18,000" at different stores. But she learned from a cashier she couldn't cash in. The transaction wasn't valid.
Coggins has been waiting for a response from the South Carolina Education Lottery.
"We didn't do anything wrong. The stores didn't do anything wrong. It's (the SCEL's) fault. I think they should either honor the tickets or give us our money back," Coggins told WYFF.
The error affected the Holiday Cash-Add-A-Play game
Lottery: Hold on to your tickets till review is done