For a few illusory hours Monday, Nicole Coggins believed in Christmas miracles.
She had a gut feeling about buying a lottery ticket - something she rarely does - and won $500. She called her friends and family to share the good news and then, to test her luck, bought another Holiday Cash ticket.
She won again. Then for a third time, and a fourth.
"So I thought, 'Well, maybe there's something wrong with this machine. This can't be real," she told WYFF News 4.
So she drove to two other gas stations in her South Carolina town, bought tickets and kept winning. She called her mother-in-law and told her to start playing, and together they racked up almost $18,000. Coggins, in a spell of happiness, told her children she would take them to Disney World.
But then, when Coggins went to cash out her tickets, she was told that the tickets were invalid.
A programming glitch in the lottery game created to an abundance of winning tickets for two hours on Christmas Day, forcing South Carolina Education Lottery officials to suspend the Holiday Cash Add-A-Play game to investigate what went wrong. From 5:51 p.m. to 7:53 p.m., the same play symbol was repeated in all nine available play areas, resulting in multiple top prizes of $500.
Coggins thought of her kids.
"I had been promising them for years and I thought I would finally get to, and now I can't," she told WYFF News 4.
It's unclear how many tickets were affected and whether any payouts were made before officials identified the error. Players who bought tickets during that period have been advised to hold on to their tickets until the investigation is complete.
Before the error was caught, word quickly spread about the winning tickets, and gas stations in northwest South Carolina, where Coggins lives, were flooded with customers. There were also reports of invalid ticket sales in the Charleston area, WYFF News 4 reported.
Coggins, who lives in Liberty, spent about $100 on the lottery tickets. She told WYFF News 4 that she's still waiting for a response from South Carolina Education Lottery.
"We didn't do anything wrong. The stores didn't do anything wrong," she said. "It's (the SCEL's) fault. I think they should either honor the tickets or give us our money back."