Big Lotto loser

December 29, 1993

William F. Rochford easily wins this year's award as the biggest Lotto loser of them all. For displeasing the governor by speaking too candidly, Mr. Rochford was fired last week as director of the State Lottery Agency. Too many "missteps and miscues" had occurred, according to the governor's office.

What triggered the firing was Mr. Rochford's audacity in telling a reporter why lottery proceeds are now expected to come in a whopping $106 million below budgetary estimates. The reason, according to the lottery director, is that Gov. William Donald Schaefer had insisted that revenue projections for the new Keno game be puffed up to help ease his budget problems.

"The governor asked me to do it," Mr. Rochford said. "That's what we tried to do."

But pinning the blame on the governor only infuriated Mr. Schaefer and his aides. Better to have an agency head take the fall than the chief executive.

In canning Mr. Rochford, the governor let it be known that he was disappointed with the lottery agency's sales and revenues. We hope that does not mean another far-fetched scheme to squeeze even more dollars out of the pockets of state lottery players. The governor's "el Gordo" mega-ticket flopped, Keno has been limping along, and other traditional lottery games have been hurt from the Keno competition.

But there's always another huckster eager to sell his goods to some new sucker. The latest is something called LottoFone. The idea is to dial in your lottery numbers, using the state's computers as a mini-bank. Its promoters claim LottoFone can increase revenues by 15 or 20 percent, which in Maryland's case could mean $80 million.

You deposit money in the lottery bank, then call in with your bets. Winnings go back into the account (unless you hit a big one). You can even set up a system to borrow money on your credit cards or drain cash from your real bank account to pump more money into your telephonic gambling habit. It's a great way to hook upscale gamblers. Pretty soon the entire state will be addicted.

State-sanctioned gambling is out of control in Maryland. One of the biggest victims is the state itself, which has become dependent on lottery revenue that simply isn't there. It's time to rein-in government's insatiable appetite for seemingly easy money. The governor and his new lottery director could take a step in the right direction by calling a halt to any new gambling ventures.

Marylanders are lottery-ed out.

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