Lottery outlets say new game is out, if their cut isn't raised

September 30, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Bar, restaurant and liquor store owners around Maryland are threatening to keep the governor's new budget-balancing lottery game out of their establishments unless the state gives them a bigger piece of the action.

Members of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, which represents some 1,200 taverns, restaurants and package goods stores statewide, say they cannot afford the overhead to operate the new keno-style game with only the 5 percent return promised by the state.

To make it worth their while, they say, their share should be closer to 20 percent to 25 percent.

Their complaints come amid already stiff opposition to the governor's plan from the state's horse racing industry, members of which fear that the new game will jeopardize their plans to offer off-track betting in Maryland.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed the game -- which is to be called "Quick Draw" and is scheduled to begin by January -- as a way of raising $50 million to help offset the state's $450 million budget deficit.

Page Boinest, the governor's acting press secretary, said yesterday that, while the concerns of both groups are important to Mr. Schaefer, he intends to push forward with the new lottery. The state needs the money, she said.

"The expectation is that there will be business owners out there who will be interested in having these games in their establishments because it will be a draw and will attract more customers," Ms. Boinest said. She added, "Obviously, increasing the take [for the business owners] would sort of defeat the purpose" of launching the game.

The State Lottery Agency says it hopes to put Quick Draw in about 1,000 locations initially, most of them businesses that do not now offer lottery games. Officials say they are considering putting the game in liquor stores, bingo halls, bowling alleys and even video stores or other places, in addition to bars and restaurants.

Clyte Franklin, owner of the Angle Inn near the Baltimore Travel Plaza in Southeast Baltimore, said that he and other tavern owners fear that their customers will spend money on Quick Draw that they might otherwise have spent on beer, drinks or food, or on playing pool or video games. The profit margin on those items is at least four times greater than the percentage the Lottery Agency is willing to pay them for Quick Draw, he said.

Mr. Franklin, who is president of the East Baltimore Tavern Association, said that a lottery machine was a draw for customers when first installed at the Angle Inn back in 1976. But no more, he said.

"At one time it was, but they've saturated the area with so many machines, it doesn't help anymore," he said, ticking off the locations of a half dozen other lottery games now located within a few blocks of his bar.

If implemented, players of "Quick Draw" would be able to buy a number and then wait for the winners to appear on a large screen. New winning numbers could pop up every five, 15, 30 or 45 minutes.

Offering the game, Mr. Franklin and others in the industry contend, would require the hiring of additional staff. Owners also would be responsible for safeguarding the equipment paying for the electricity, they say.

Craig Button, owner of Button's Liquor Store in Timonium and president of the Licensed Beverage Association, said, "If you're going to legalize gambling, let us make some money. We want a piece of the pie, too."

The horse racing industry has a different concern. After years of trying, it finally convinced the General Assembly earlier this year to legalize off-track betting. Now, industry representatives fear Quick Draw may hinder their plans.

Industry officials say the new lottery game is aimed at precisely the same market as off-track betting -- and that Mr. Schaefer's plan already is scaring off potential investors in off-track betting parlors.

After keno was introduced in Oregon, they contend, track attendance and the handle -- the amount bet -- went down, as did sales of other forms of lottery games, such as instant "rub-off" games.

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