Lottery's next attraction: instant-ticket machines

July 29, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

Meet the lottery agent of the future -- a machine.

The Maryland State Lottery hopes to begin selling instant tickets from vending machines in the fall, in an effort to attract more players.

Top state officials are expected next month to approve a contract to buy 300 machines that dispense tickets for the $1 "scratch-off" games.

The machines would be divided evenly among the liquor shops, convenience stores and markets that currently sell instant tickets, and those that do not.

Giant Food Inc., for one, is lined up to put vending machines in its supermarkets.

The lottery agency expects each machine to produce $1,000 in new sales a week, said Martin R. Goldman, deputy director for marketing.

The machines will attract people who are currently too shy to buy tickets over the counter, he said.

"Some people don't understand the lottery and would be embarrassed to go to the counter and say, 'I want a ticket,' and the clerk says, 'What kind?' " and the buyer would have to admit he didn't know, Mr. Goldman explained.

The lottery offers a dozen games that require players to scratch off a film to find out if they have won a prize.

State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein said yesterday he is skeptical of the plan to buy the vending machines because he doubts the sales projections and fears that children will be among those attracted by the machines.

Nonetheless, Mr. Goldstein is likely to be outvoted by the other two members of the Board of Public Works -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer and State Treasurer Lucille Maurer. The board is expected to approve a five-year contract worth almost $2.7 million for the vending machines at its meeting on Aug. 11.

The contract to provide, install, maintain and distribute the machines is expected to go to Interlott Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio. The only other bidder, International Products of America, failed to meet the state's requirement for long-term services.

At a board meeting yesterday, Mr. Goldstein noted that the lottery has overestimated its sales in the past.

For example, he said, the agency projected $50 million in revenue from electronic keno during the game's first six months. But keno actually brought in only about $29 million during that period.

Launched in January, keno is a casino-like game that selects new winning numbers every five minutes.

Overall, the lottery contributed $300 million of the state's $12.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Mr. Goldstein also expressed concern that the vending machines might attract children to gambling.

Maryland lottery chief William F. Rochford tried to reassure him. About a dozen states use lottery vending machines, Mr. Rochford said, and they haven't had any problems with juveniles.

A Kentucky lottery official told a Sun reporter yesterday that he had not received any reports of minors buying tickets from vending machines there.

In Maryland, a sign on the machines will inform people they must be at least 18 years old to buy and redeem a ticket, Mr. Rochford said.

The head of a legislative budget committee said yesterday he believes Mr. Goldstein's concerns are "very legitimate."

Nonetheless, the lottery is carrying out its responsibility to promote its games, said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the House Appropriations Committee.

"If there is flagrant abuse by juveniles using the machines, I suspect the legislature will move quickly to ban their use," he said.

Giant Food Inc. plans to install vending machines "by the front office or manager's booth, so they're somewhat under the watchful eye of management," said Steven Marks, director of retail accounting at the Landover-based supermarket chain.

Giant expects to introduce the machines this fall in 10 to 15 of its 97 Maryland stores, some in the Baltimore area. If the effort is successful, Mr. Marks said, Giant will put a machine in each of its other stores.

Lottery officials had hoped the board would approve the vending machine contract yesterday, but Mr. Goldstein and Mrs. Maurer deferred action until the governor could be present.

Mr. Schaefer is on vacation this week.

Despite her personal "doubts," Mrs. Maurer said, she supports the contract in deference to the Maryland General Assembly, which elected her treasurer. The legislature signed off on the idea earlier this year.

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