If the lottery ticket you buy today looks different from the one you bought yesterday, you're seeing the results of a $65 million contract for new technology designed to give you more ways to play.
The new lottery computer system, designed by GTECH Corp., officially goes on line today after a bitter, politically tinged lobbying campaign that unseated longtime lottery vendor Control Data Corp.
The changeover began June 27 when a handful of new ticket machines went on line from Maryland to GTECH's West Greenwich, R.I., headquarters on a test basis.
The conversion of all 1,850 terminal sites, connected to a GTECH computer in Columbia with a backup system in Landover, was scheduled for completion in time for tonight's Lotto drawing.
The new lottery slips are longer and thinner than their predecessors, without the familiar four-color Maryland background scenes.
The new system can place as many as 10 rows of Lotto numbers on a single slip of paper, compared with two under the old system.
The state selected new variable-length tickets over the traditional fixed-length printouts to save time for lottery sellers and customers, according to Marty Goldman, deputy director of marketing for the Maryland State Lottery Agency.
The paper is relatively thin to make it easier on cutting machines used by ticket printers. New computerized "readers" will verify winning tickets faster, too. The trade-off is that four-color presswork can be used only on the back of the ticket, Goldman said.
But state officials will be watching something more important than color: ticket sales.
Although Marylanders spent a record $813 million on lottery tickets during the fiscal year that ended June 30, total sales were about $39 million below projections, leaving state coffers about $10 million poorer than anticipated after routine lottery expenses were paid.
Banking on GTECH's ability to broaden the game spectrum, state lawmakers approved a budget for fiscal 1992 that relies on almost $900 million in gross lottery sales, a level never before attained in Maryland's 18-year lottery history.
The impact of the lottery on the state's general fund has grown significantly. Since 1973, when the lottery began after voters approved the game in a statewide referendum, revenues have grown from $6.3 million to a plateau of about $800 million a year. The lottery is the third-largest source of general funds -- behind income and sales taxes.
Without the lottery, Maryland lawmakers seeking an extra $300 million to balance the budget might have had to look at adding a penny to the state's 5 percent sales tax, according to Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, who heads the House Appropriations Committee.
Despite last year's good-news, bad-news lottery sales, Ryan said it's too early to know if adjustments in lottery revenue projections will have to be made in fiscal 1992.
"We must see what happens over the next few months," he said.
Lottery officials said they may have GTECH install as many as 350 more terminals by year's end.
"We should have a sizable sales increase" with those additions, Goldman said.
The GTECH system has the capacity to offer more numbers games, including Lotto America, which pools bets from several states to boost the jackpot higher than individual state lotteries.
GTECH spokesman Craig Watson said new terminals are likely to be sprinkled in suburban and rural areas to bring in more players.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that you saturate the cities with terminals," said GTECH co-chairman Guy B. Snowden. "Maybe there are different types of games that would be popular in the suburbs as well. That may dictate a rollout of additional points of sale in suburban locations. We see different possibilities for future products. And depending on the product, it may dictate a different distribution system."
Snowden said the lottery company is prepared to assist the state agency in planning, but does not want to appear overly aggressive.
"Our role, traditionally, is to follow the lead of the lottery organization itself," he said. "We're sometimes viewed as technologists, but we certainly do bring a dimension of marketing to our clients."
Snowden said he has high hopes for the Maryland lottery. "My feeling is that Maryland has undergone a bit of a renaissance recently," he said. "We see a great emphasis put on science and marketing as opposed to the seat-of-the-pants kind of marketing. I hope that that means we will be thought of as a member of the team."
Still, whatever new offerings are put before Maryland lottery players, experts expect the big-jackpot games as the greatest lure.
"Lotto seems to be the sweetheart of the world," said Snowden. "It's ubiquitous. . . . People enjoy it as much in Iceland as they do in Kansas or Maryland or Singapore."