ROCKY HILL, Conn. (WTNH) — Months before Connecticut Lottery’s 5 Card Cash game was suspended, lottery officials knew there was a “security issue” that eventually allowed the game to be rigged, according to a four-month investigation by the News8 Investigators.
5 Card Cash, an instant win game, was suspended on November 14, 2015 after it was discovered that retailers were using a flaw in the computer system to rig the game to buy only winning tickets. The problem was the printer, say state investigators. If retailers ordered 20 tickets, called a “repeat 20”, and then looked at the computers’ ticket history page, the numbers of the tickets would be displayed before actually printing. Winning tickets were printed and losers were cancelled before being purchased.
5 Card Cash started an impossible hot streak. Certain locations sold 65 to 80 percent winners, according to court records. Eight retailers are charged with rigging, computer crimes and larceny. All of the cases are still pending and none have pleaded guilty.
Investigators from the Department of Consumer Protection initially said they were investigating 14 different lottery retailers for exploiting the security flaw but that number, in recent days, has added another 20 retailers suspected of using the security issue. More arrests are expected.
Connecticut Lottery President and CEO Anne Noble told the Lottery Audit Committee that she learned of the security flaw and possible manipulation in October 2015, just weeks before it’s even suspension. Records obtained by News 8 seem to contradict that statement, though.
On January 5 2015, Connecticut Lottery inspector lottery Kevin Wiggins noted a “security flaw” with 5 Card Cash. Staff at Trumbull gas station “Gene’s Automotive” brought it to his attention. Wiggins called Lottery Director of Security Fred Dupuis. At 4:01 p.m., Dupuis emailed back.
“I received your [voicemail] and spoke to [CT Lottery Special Investigator] Bob Balicki. We are looking into the matter to determine if it is at all possible. Thank you for bringing it to my attention so promptly,” reads the email.
The email exchanges include a photo of what retailers are able to see by using the exploit.
The next day, senior lottery staff, including President Noble, meet. Staff notes from that meeting show Dupuis discussing 5 Card Cash.
But the only action taken in the next 10 months was communication with the software company Scientific Games. The game remained on the market until its eventual suspension.
In that time, retailers allegedly used that exploit to take thousands in ill-gotten winnings.Eight retailers have now been arrested, charged with rigging lottery systems by exploiting the “repeat 20” flaw. All charges are still pending and none have yet pleaded guilty.
In court filings, lottery retailers increased the winning percentage on 5 Card Cash to as high as 70 percent at certain locations.
In a letter to Scientific Games, President Noble says shutting down Five Card Cash cost more than $4 million in damages.
Noble told the Lottery Audit Committee that she found out about the alleged rigging in October, not January 2015. In March, after News 8 first filed a Freedom of Information Act request, Noble said she learned of the January notes & emails. However, in notes sent to Department of Consumer Protection investigators, a staff member writes that the issue with 5 Card Cash & it’s possible manipulation was known “by the field reps” for months.
When first announced, the investigation included 14 retailers being investigated for alleged rigging. That number expanded this week to include another 20, according to a statement from DCP.
The Gaming Division has expanded its research into retailer conduct with this game, and has identified an additional 20 retailers with suspected fraudulent activity,” said Department of Consumer Protection spokeswoman Lora Rae Anderson in a statement to News 8.
The Connecticut Lottery is more popular than ever. This year, it is bringing in more than $330 million and that is expected to go up next year. Steve Dargan chairs the House Chair of the Public Safety and Security Committee. He says the security and integrity of lottery games is imperative.
“The appropriate response would be to close the game down to do an audit review,” said Dargan. “See if there is any criminal activity.”
Tom Catanzaro was a Connecticut Lottery Financial Analyst Former in 2014 when 5 Card Cash first came online. He said the prudent decision would have been to freeze the game to figure out if any manipulation was happening.
“Not knowing whether the retailer could manipulate that for their benefit or any other reason, the prudent thing to do would be to pull the game immediately,” said Catanzaro.
Noble would not agree to an on the record interview. She pointed to the ongoing dispute with Scientific Games over the game shutdown.
Scientific Games would not offer comment, either, only stating that they are cooperating with the states investigation.