We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
At first, Kay Kim was down on keno on principle. “Keno is a crazy thing,” says the 53-year-old owner of Brown Street Market at 3320 Brown St. NW. “It can rip your customer away right away, because every four minutes they know the results, and then they kick the money in and kick the money in…”
But when the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board embraced keno on May 5, Kim found herself kicking cash to the D.C. Lottery with less control than the most compulsive of her customers. Keno’s debut, according to lottery officials, exacerbated a pre-existing glitch in the D.C.’s Lottery’s computer system, causing some ticket-sellers to be charged for unsold tickets. The individual daily amounts were small enough for vendors to overlook, but the total overcharges in the District could have totaled tens of thousands of dollars.
Kim’s first taste of the glitch arrived the day keno did. Her lottery terminala blue-and-black plastic box hunkered a foot away from her cashier’s postbegan to squawk at her. A secondlong tone sounded with each keno drawing: every four minutes, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., every day of the week. “It kept stressing me,” says Kim. “I heard that keek! sound so many times, but I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a drawing.’”
The keeks were more than just annoying. If Kim’s terminal happened to squawk at the same moment she was keying in a lottery sale, the transaction would not appear on her screenmaking the total sale less than what a customer had asked forand a printed receipt would show a “Not for Sale” message. Usually, that message means that a game such as Quick Cash has reached its liability limit. But the messages also occurred when she was selling tickets for Powerball, which has no liability limit. “Powerball is never, never not for sale!” she says. “They sell as many as they can.”
In fact, the D.C. Lottery was selling more Powerball tickets, and other tickets, than it had customers: Despite refusing to print a ticket, the terminal was logging each blocked sale as an actual one. When Kim would dutifully punch in the failed purchase again for her customers, assuming she had made some typing mistake the first time, the machine would count it as a second ticket.
It took a week and a half for Kim to discover the glitch: After one 50-cent nonsale that she knew she’d entered correctly, she examined her online sales records and spotted the duplicate charges. Once she caught on to what was happening, Kim started double-checking every sale that came up short of a customer’s request. “All day long, I checked every time [the terminal] was short,” she says, “and there was a missing 50 cents, $1, $5 sometimes.”
D.C. Lottery officials say they knew about the bug before they ever released the keno game. “We test offline in a very small environment before we release games or promotions,” says Doris Brown, director of the D.C. Lottery’s Management Information System. “When we tested [keno], we found there was a problem with the system prior to releasing keno.”
But the glitch was so infrequent in testing, according to Lottery Executive Director Jeanette Michael, that the lottery went ahead with keno anyway. “It was not occurring each time a wager was placed,” she says. “We sat down, and I made a decision that this would not hurt the keno gameand it did not. To date, keno is ahead.”
The glitch, which existed in the software since March, was tied to drawing times. “Because keno is a rapid-draw game,” says Michael, “the problem was exacerbated.” She says “less than 1 percent” of the city’s 465 keno vendors reported problems similar to Kim’s in May. Those who reported the error and submitted documents showing their losses have been given refunds, Michael says.
When Kim went to the D.C.’s Lottery office in Southeast on May 22, though, she had sales records dating back only to her May 16 discovery. She had not printed out detailed records from her terminal during the previous 11 days, because she’d been unaware of the problem. Kim showed the records to a financial accounting officer, she says, “and he agreed with me that there was something wrong.”
The officer told her, however, that it was impossible for the D.C. Lottery to refund her earlier, undocumented losses.
In the end, Kim used her receipts from May 16 to May 31 to write adjustments totaling $46. If every keno vendor in the city had been unwittingly losing money at a similar rateabout $2.88 per daythe D.C. Lottery could have collected $36,000 in extra charges in May. That estimate could be low: Kim sells $640 worth of tickets a day, half the amount of the city’s average ticket-seller.
Because so few people reported the glitch, Michael believes it did not affect every vendor. “When agents have problems, they let us know,” she says. “If they don’t catch the problem, there isn’t one.”
According to Michael, a software revision eliminated the glitch on June 1. Kim says she hasn’t had any problems this month, but she still prints out a total-sales receipt after every lottery sale. “You will not notice it,” she says, “unless you count your money all the time.” CP