Lottery game that Md. plans enriches Ore.

September 18, 1992|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

The Oregon electronic keno game that may be a model for Maryland's new Quick Draw lottery is a roaring financial success that, only a year after its inception, accounts for fully one-third of that state's lottery sales.

But while Maryland Lottery officials say Quick Draw will tap into a new market of white-collar, professional, "twenty-something" players, Oregon's game has been most popular with young, male blue-collar workers who are less educated than the average lottery player.

Maryland Lottery officials say the Quick Draw game, presented yesterday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer as a way to raise $50 million to help balance the state budget, is still on the drawing boards and won't necessarily resemble existing games.

But GTECH Corp., the Rhode Island company that supplies Maryland's lottery computers, has set up electronic keno games for the Oregon and Rhode Island lotteries. And another GTECH-provided keno game is to begin next month in Kansas.

Maryland's lottery sales have been flat for the past five years. The lottery contributed $317 million to the state's general fund in the fiscal year that ended June 30. With the state facing a half-billion-dollar budget shortfall, officials desperately want to boost sales.

Industry experts predict that Quick Draw, if it follows the Oregon and Rhode Island format, will mean big bucks for Maryland.

"I think it's going to be a huge success for them," said Terri LaFleur, senior editor of Gaming and Wagering Business, a trade pTC journal. "I don't think they can milk much more from their products. They need a new on-line game like this to get interest back up."

Oregon's keno game works like this: Players bet $1 to $20 on as many as 10 numbers chosen from a pool of 1 to 80. Every five minutes, the lottery's computer randomly picks 20 numbers from the pool. Television monitors at lottery outlets display the winning numbers.

Players whose numbers match those displayed on the monitors win from $1 to $100,000, depending on their bets. For example, a player who wins a $1 bet on a single number gets $2. A player who bets $1 on 10 numbers and matches them all wins $100,000.

In Oregon, the most popular bet is the so-called "four spot" -- four numbers chosen from the pool of 80. A player wins $50 on a $1 bet for matching all four numbers, $5 for matching three of four, and $1 for matching two of four.

Prizes of up to $600 are paid on the spot; others are paid directly by the lottery agency.

Of course, the odds are against winning. Of every dollar bet on keno, the Oregon Lottery returns only 60 cents in prizes.

The game is played 204 times a day, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and plans are to extend the hours to 1 a.m. Restaurants, bars and hotels account for 56 percent of keno sales, Oregon Lottery statistics show.

Oregon's keno game has exceeded all revenue expectations. From its inception a year ago this week through the end of last June, keno raked in $83.8 million in sales. Keno still brings in nearly $2 million a week despite the introduction of video poker in Oregon.

"We've had tremendous success," said Terri Culverson, an Oregon Lottery official.

Rhode Island, which began keno last Sunday, reports a fast start. "We've gotten all kinds of inquiries, over 100 in the last two days, from agents who want a keno machine," said Ray Grimes, that state's deputy lottery director. "You can get two tickets to a U-2 concert easier than you can get keno. It's unbelievable."

Critics say electronic keno would be an unbelievably bad idea for Maryland.

"This is the most addictive of all games because it's so instantaneous. It's like the crack cocaine of gambling," said Valerie C. Lorenz, director of the Compulsive Gambling Center Inc. in Baltimore. She estimated Maryland has 80,000 to 100,000 compulsive gamblers.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, incoming chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the new lottery game would be a "tax on the poor," especially blacks. He said the governor can begin Quick Draw without legislative approval.

"If you wanted to be fair about increasing revenue, you ought to just raise an appropriate tax," he complained. "But we're not going to tax the middle class in this state."

The state's two majority-black subdivisions, Baltimore city and Prince George's County, accounted for half the sales in the lottery's two daily numbers games, according to the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services. Those games provided $530 million of the agency's $810 million in sales in fiscal 1992.

Carroll H. Hynson Jr., a lottery deputy director, said Quick Draw would be played in a "social setting" such as bars and restaurants that would attract an upscale gambler.

Oregon's keno has appealed most to blue-collar, middle-income men. While nearly a third of that state's people are college graduates, only a fifth of keno players have college degrees. White-collar workers are underrepresented among keno aficionados.

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