A day after three of four companies dropped out of the bidding for a $75 million Maryland Lottery Agency computer contract, the state's budget chief tried to lure them back and "encourage maximum competition" by changing some of the state requirements yesterday.
At the direction of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Charles L. Benton, secretary of the Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning, announced he would postpone the deadline for bids until Dec. 10. The bids for the new computer system had been due today.
Some potential bidders had protested that today's deadline was too soon to allow them to compete. "Even though this may be ploy -- and we're not saying that it is -- we want to be fair," Mr. Benton said.
"This is an effort to create as much open and free competition as is possible for a very significant purchase," said Paul Schurick, Mr. Schaefer's press secretary. "It's in the state's interest to have an open competitive bidding process."
The lottery contract has become extremely sensitive largely because the four potential bidders are represented by some of Annapolis' most influential lobbyists. And the competitors had protested that the state's requirements favored the current computer supplier, Control Data Corp.
The lobbyist representing Control Data is Alan Rifkin, formerly Mr. Schaefer's legislative chief.
At a press conference yesterday morning, the governor said he believed the system was fair, but "there are four or five high-powered, very expensive lobbyists. It is so important to me that there not be any evidence that one is getting an advantage over the other. . . ."
Mr. Schaefer said of the allegations of favoritism, "If you throw enough stuff around, you get splattered."
Last week, amid protests of unfairness from some potential bidders, the governor said he was naming two committees to review the bids and to shield his administration from charges of favoritism.
When the protests continued and the firms announced Tuesday that they would not bid, Mr. Schaefer turned the matter over to Mr. Benton.
"We plan to do everything we can to encourage competition," Mr. Benton said.
Yesterday afternoon, the budget chief announced that the state, in addition to extending the deadline, would make two other changes in its requirements:
* The state would remove a provision that gives Control Data credit for equipment already in the possession of the lottery agency. Lobbyists for other firms had protested that only Control Data could benefit from such a provision.
* And the state would not require that a backup computer system be housed in a separate building.
One of the potential bidders, Scientific Games Inc. of Atlanta, had protested that its most up-to-date technology combines a primary and backup system in the same housing and that the lottery's insistence on two separately housed systems discriminated against Scientific Games.
Scientific Games is represented by Joseph A. Schwartz III. Another of the potential bidders is General Instrument Corp. of Hunt Valley, represented by James J. Doyle Jr., a Baltimore lawyer.
The fourth firm is GTECH Corp., a Providence, R.I., firm represented by Bruce Bereano, the state's highest-paid lobbyist, and former Gov. Marvin Mandel.
Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Doyle and Mr. Rifkin could not be reached for comment yesterday. Mr. Bereano, however, said the state's changes will allow his firm to bid. "It certainly is very welcome news," he said.
"You gotta play to win," Mr. Bereano said, using the lottery's slogan. He said the state's earlier requirements were "such that we weren't being allowed to play."