Millions of people waited anxiously on Monday night, Nov. 7, for the world record $2 billion Powerball drawing to commence, only to be disappointed when the clock struck 11 p.m. The normal Monday announcer delivered the news that the drawing was delayed.
Powerball issued a media statement immediately that read, “Tonight’s Powerball drawing has been delayed due to a participating lottery needing extra time to complete the required security protocols.”
No other details were provided on the 10-hour drawing delay that eventually yielded a single $2.04 billion jackpot winner in California. Now, we have an explanation.
How a multi-state Powerball drawing comes together
Powerball is sold in 48 participating jurisdictions, including 45 states, Washington D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The state or jurisdiction’s lottery handles their own ticket sales. Each state’s sales dollars are split up: A portion stays in the state, and a portion goes to fund the jackpot. Each lottery then pays out the prizes won in their jurisdiction, except for the jackpot.
This is why each state’s sales numbers are needed before the drawing: so Powerball can calculate the final jackpot amount. And to ensure each state’s security protocols have been met.
Those who play Powerball regularly have seen delays before. It happens from time to time. But the recent hold-up during a high-profile drawing raises the questions: what exactly causes a delay, and who is responsible?
A communication breakdown in the North Star State
The Minnesota Lottery stepped in to explain what happened to cause the delay in reporting that state’s sales data on Monday. In a blog post published Thurs., Nov. 10, the Lottery explained:
“For several hours, we couldn’t complete our essential verification processes because of a communications problem with an external vendor’s computer system. Normally, issues like this are resolved within an hour. However, this time it took much longer.”
To clarify things, the blog post elaborates that the MN Lottery works with two key vendors to ensure the security of their Powerball tickets. One vendor supplies the “central gaming system” that prints tickets and makes a record of every single transaction, so every ticket sold can be verified as authentic. The second vendor is an “independent internal control system,” employed to check the work of the main vendor.
According to the blog post, “This division of responsibilities is essential so that no one, including Minnesota Lottery staff or either of the Minnesota Lottery’s key vendors, could compromise a lottery game.”
In essence, it’s a system of checks and balances.
The two systems communicate regularly throughout the day, with the control system essentially making a backup copy of every data entry made on the central gaming system. At the end of the sales day, the two systems must “balance.”
That means the control system’s data has to match the central system’s data perfectly.
“Until the Minnesota Lottery can verify all data has been transmitted and matched, we cannot confirm our system has balanced,” the blog post said.
What went wrong
On Monday, the two systems in MN could not communicate throughout the day as they normally do. In essence – metaphorically speaking – the WiFi was down.
To continue the analogy, let’s say you (the control system) are trying to watch a chess match (the central gaming system’s transactions) on a live video stream online. Your internet goes down, so you can’t see the live video. The event is still being recorded live, but you’ll have to watch the full video later if you want to see every move that was made.
The vendor worked to correct the communication issue into the early morning hours. But eventually MN’s control system had to start over from the beginning. The blog post said, “Therefore, at about 2:15 a.m., we made the decision to start over processing the entire day’s sales data. Because of the tremendous number of sales, this process took about 5.5 hours.”
In the end, all was well and the systems balanced. The MN Lottery said that the delay occurred in fact because the security system worked. According to the blog post, “At no time was the sales data or the game compromised.”
Powerball drawing security protocols
As you might already know, the actual drawings take place in a studio at the Florida Lottery headquarters in Tallahassee. Already a building with high security, the TV studio and vaults that house the Powerball equipment have even higher security. There are law enforcement officials on location and security cameras everywhere, among other safeguards.
For example, it takes three keys and three people to open the vault door to access the drawing machines and number balls. Only a lottery security agent, a representative from MUSL (Multi-State Lottery Association) and an independent auditor have the keys. The plethora of security cameras are monitored live at the Multi-State Lottery Association headquarters in Clive, Iowa.
Inside the vault, there are four identical drawing machines and four sets of balls. One of each is randomly selected for each drawing. The balls are X-rayed and weighed occasionally, and the machines are inspected, measured, and tested. Most people present aren’t allowed to even touch the balls. And those who load the balls into the machine have to wear gloves.
Throughout the whole process, representatives from an independent auditing firm are also present. Their job is to confirm that every safeguard is in place and all procedures are executed as prescribed. They also witness the actual drawing.
Additionally, every drawing is video recorded by multiple cameras, including security cameras, and most are broadcasted live. All drawings are available for viewing on YouTube. What you might not know is that the drawings are open for public viewing as well. But, as exciting as Powerball drawings can be, it only takes a minute, and people seem content to watch from home. On most nights, the viewing room is empty.