State turns to machines to boost lottery sales

September 02, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Worried about appearances? Concerned your neighbors might see you gambling? Too shy to step up to the counter and blurt out the words, "I'd like to buy an instant lottery ticket"?

If so, Maryland officials may have done you a favor yesterday, agreeing to pay an Ohio firm $2.6 million for 300 machines that will automatically dispense the popular "rub-off" tickets that can turn lottery players into instant winners (or instant losers).

No need anymore for players to ask a clerk to sell them tickets; soon they will be able to buy them simply by sliding some folding money into a vending machine. "If people are shy, this gives them the opportunity to purchase [tickets] without worrying about how they appear," said Martin R. Goldman, marketing director for the State Lottery Agency.

Moreover, gamblers will be able to buy them in locations where lottery tickets never before were sold: in supermarkets and convenience stores, at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and even at rest areas along busy interstates.

The machines will take one-dollar bills, fives, tens or twenties, but -- sorry -- they won't make change.

The Board of Public Works finally approved the much-delayed contract to purchase the machines, 2 to 1, but two board members seemed to hold their noses as they voted.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said he voted for the contract because the state needs the extra $6 million a year in revenue the expanded instant ticket game is eventually expected to produce. Treasurer Lucille Maurer, the legislature's representative, said she went along only because the General Assembly had approved the concept and budgeted the money for the machines.

The nay vote came from Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, whose opposition prompted the governor to delay a vote Aug. 11. Mr. Goldstein said he worries that minors will use the machines to play illegally.

Lottery officials insist that is unlikely to happen, saying guidelines will require that the machines be placed where they are visible to store employees, and that signs will be posted warning those who are under 18 not to play. Even if they do, Mr. Goldman said, they will have difficulty cashing a winning ticket because only adults are allowed to do so.

Valerie Lorenz, director of the National Center for Compulsive Gambling, a Baltimore treatment center, called such statements blatantly deceptive" and said gamblers who are addicted to the lottery always play the instant games.

"Will this make it more problematic? Absolutely, yes," she said.

The state has come to depend heavily on revenue from legal gambling, and the lottery has long been the state's third largest single source of revenue. Since 1988, however,Maryland's lottery market has become saturated and once rapidly rising revenues have leveled off.

The Schaefer administration, facing other budgetary problems as well, pressed the Lottery Agency to find new games or other ways to expand lottery play. Instant ticket machines were one answer.

Another was keno, the electronic numbers game introduced amid much controversy in January with the hope of bringing in an extra $100 million a year. Yesterday, lottery officials released results of their first in-depth study of who plays keno, how often RTC and why.

It concluded that 80 percent of keno players are white, 58 percent are male, 25 percent are college graduates and another 26 percent have one to three years of college experience. More than half (54 percent) earn between $20,000 and $50,000, and most (57 percent) are from the Baltimore region.

"We were trying to get a little more upscale player, trying to get someone a little younger, and this shows we succeeded in that," said Mr. Goldman.

Ms. Lorenz, however, said most keno addicts she sees are women, not men, and suggested the money spent "on this nonsensical survey" would have been better spent on treatment programs.

"As far as I'm concerned this is just another governmental scam to convince the citizens of Maryland that gambling is entertainment and cost effective," she said.

The research by Market Facts Inc. of Washington is part of a larger, $40,000 annual demographic study of who plays each of Maryland's lottery games. It was conducted by random telephone interviews between May 14 and June 8. Some 1,200 people were interviewed, roughly 800 of whom said they had played at least one lottery game within the previous two months.

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