Tainting the Lottery

May 21, 1991

Once again, the integrity of the Maryland state lottery is under attack. Not only did a controversial computer firm win a much-disputed bid to replace all the state's lottery terminals, but it now turns out that the firm attempted to influence the selection process by cutting in political friends and allies of the governor on the deal, which will net the firm a minimum of $64 million.

The brazen nature of this arrangement is startling. GTECH Corp. of Rhode Island picked well-connected minority and female vendors to handle millions of dollars of subcontracting work, and pointedly named the individuals in the firm's proposal. To gain even more sympathy, the firm committed itself to giving $400,000 to Morgan State University's engineering school -- a move unrelated to the lottery operations. As it turns out, boosting the engineering school is a priority for Budget Secretary Charles L. Benton, who was a pivotal player in picking a lottery vendor.

Even more stunning is GTECH's decision to funnel all its printing work through a company partly owned by William L. "Little Willie" Adams, a Baltimore entrepreneur and booster of the governor who started his career as a $1,000-a-day numbers boss. The actual ticket-printing will be done by another company, but Mr. Adams' firm -- just incorporated last year -- will earn a tidy profit.

Having a former numbers kingpin doing the printing for the state lottery raises serious security questions. It could also raise doubts in Marylanders' minds about the honesty of the operation. Mr. Adams has no experience in ticket printing, but he does have close political ties to the governor.

Controversy seems to follow GTECH when it seeks lottery contracts. The company is being investigated for possible ethics violations in at least seven other states. Its bid to win the Maryland lottery contract was mired in political controversy from the start. Now some of its other tactics are under fire.

Lotteries were outlawed in most states in the 19th century because they were tainted with corruption. But in the last two decades, state-run lottery games have resurfaced, proving huge boons for state coffers. No aura of wrongdoing has been permitted. Nor should it be. Maryland officials have an obligation to remove the cloud of suspicion now surrounding the Lottery Agency. Even a hint of possible shenanigans cannot be tolerated.

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