SPRINGFIELD - One of the Oregon Lottery's most popular games went haywire sometime last week, letting players rack up big jackpots on a particular video slot game and leaving merchants holding the bag.
The game was pulled from video terminals late Monday, but not before many retailers had to pony up their share of payouts that often totaled $1,000 to $3,000 per machine. The retailers cover 27.5 percent of all payouts, so for every $1,000 that players win, the retailer pays $275 and the state pays the rest.
It works the same way with losses; retailers get to keep 27.5 percent of whatever gamblers lose at the machines. The terminals are all programmed to pay out less than they take in over time, so merchants are supposed to make a profit on the machines.
But even merchants with multiple terminals could have lost a month or more of profits from the glitch in a game called DaVinci Diamonds. Known as a video slot game or line game, it has five spinning reels and pays out prizes when players get certain icons in a given row.
Sometime last week, the icons all started lining up gold.
A manager at Sweet Illusions in Springfield, who declined to give his name because he didn't want to anger state lottery officials, said he noticed the problem on Aug. 26. The terminal that offered DaVinci Diamonds was paying out unusually large amounts, he said.
He made several calls to the lottery office over the next several days, but each time he was told that some games go through "hot spells" and that the issue would sort itself out. But the machine continued to bleed cash.
"We paid out more on that game than I make in a month," he said. "People were playing it like crazy."
Jim Trunnell, the owner of Porky's Palace barbecue restaurant on Highway 99 in west Eugene, said players caught onto the game's generosity well before lottery officials. It was so obvious that some people warned him to shut off the machine because the payouts were too good, he said.
"People were foaming at the mouth to play that game," he said, and not just in Eugene and Springfield.
The game "paid off in every single machine across the state of Oregon," Trunnell said. "I don't get very many players in here, but I was alarmed when $201 was put in a machine and $2,400 was paid out."
Lottery spokesman Chuck Baumann said complaints about the game started coming in last week and officials began looking into it last Thursday. But he said it usually takes several days to determine whether a game is malfunctioning or just going through the normal ups and downs of gambling.
It wasn't until Monday that the decision was made to pull the game, which was done through the state's central lottery computer.
At this point, Baumann said the problem is being investigated, but it will take time to figure out what happened.
He said DaVinci Diamonds was one of the lottery's most popular games and has been available at virtually every location where video lottery is offered since it was introduced last spring. However, the game was only offered on a single terminal at each location.
The machines are not programmed by the state lottery.
DaVinci Diamonds is a product of WagerWorks, a division of International Game Technology based in Reno, Nev.
Video lottery games are offered at 2,373 locations in Oregon. Baumann said the lottery is generally reluctant to shut down games until it's clear there is a problem.
"Shutting down a game is not something we want to do," he said. "This kind of thing doesn't happen very often."
As for whether retailers will be compensated for their losses, Baumann said that's up in the air. It will depend on what went wrong with the game and who, if anyone, was at fault.
Rumors are flying among lottery retailers about what caused the problem, with one alleging that a lottery programmer deliberately sabotaged the game after being fired. That was news to Baumann, who replied "absolutely not" when asked if lottery officials had any reason to believe the glitch was a deliberate act.
But retailers aren't convinced. They said too many people seemed to know specifically which game was affected and how to defeat it, which they said involved placing fingers on certain parts of the touch-screen game at the right time to get a winning spin.