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California Lottery officials admit mix-up

State lawmakers call for a probe into whether nine players on the 'Make Me a Millionaire' TV show were shortchanged and an equal number won more than they would have without the error.

September 24, 2009|Patrick McGreevy

SACRAMENTO — California Lottery officials acknowledged Wednesday that a procedural mix-up on its "Make Me a Millionaire" television show in February may have affected which games the contestants played and therefore how much they could win.

State legislators asked for an investigation into whether nine players were shortchanged and an equal number won more than they would have without the error.

Lottery Director Joan Borucki said a "human error" could have changed which of four games contestants played on the show, but said that they all were still subject to random drawings to determine their game.

The mix-up occurred when players were given numbers for a drawing on one episode of the show but were mistakenly placed on a different one.

"The integrity of the game wasn't compromised. The randomness wasn't compromised," Borucki said.

The lottery director said late Wednesday that she plans to allow eight affected players to compete on a future show because the mix-up might have cost them a chance to play for more money the first time.

In each show, the lottery randomly assigns numbers to 12 contestants for a chance to play one of four different games. One game has a top prize of at least $1 million; others have smaller jackpots.

For the show, those numbers are drawn randomly to assign players to one of the games or a consolation prize of $2,000.

In one case, a Bakersfield woman won $2.8 million playing the "Make Me a Millionaire" game because her number, six, was randomly drawn to play that game.

But she was supposed to appear on a different show in which the number six was drawn to receive a $2,000 consolation prize, according to internal Lottery agency documents released by the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review.

Lawmakers were concerned that another player holding the number six for a different show was given the consolation prize when that person might have otherwise been allowed to compete for the big jackpot.

"People should have been able to compete for certain prizes and they weren't," said Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), the panel's chairman.

An internal incident report released by the committee on the television drawings held Feb. 8 in Los Angeles identified nine people who "played incorrect game and won more" and nine people who "played incorrect game and won less."

The total liability that the state could face is up to $6 million, according to the documents.

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patrick.mcgreevy @latimes.com

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