The lottery's own lottery $100 million deal: Keeping politics out of the bidding for new computers is essential

September 27, 1995

CONTROVERSY AND allegations of hanky-panky have surrounded the Maryland Lottery Agency in recent years over the awarding of lucrative contracts for computers and computer software. State and federal probes were launched and state legislators openly questioned irregularities in the way contracts were handed out. It turned into a public embarrassment.

This history explains why Gov. Parris Glendening has gone out of his way to try to keep the next lottery contract beyond the reach of politicians and lobbyists. He has barred cabinet officials and senior aides from discussing any aspect of the big lottery contract with potential bidders or lobbyists. And lottery director Lloyd Jones has devised a way that could, indeed, keep the procurement process free of political interference.

The idea is to base the contract award strictly on the lowest bid submitted. State lottery officials know enough about what they need in their new computers and software to draw up detailed specifications themselves, and then invite companies to submit bids based just on price -- not on technical competence as well. If all bidders are deemed qualified by the agency, the award will come down to the best dollar deal for the state.

This is a welcome change from the disputes over which company had the most technical competence to deliver a variety of new lottery games to the Maryland agency. It's a subjective call open to challenges from lobbyists and politicians -- and it leaves an unseemly impression that the process has been manipulated.

Competition in selling computer equipment to state lotteries is intense right now. Maryland could be the beneficiary of this price war. We should know Oct. 10 when the bids are opened. Lowest price, not best political connections, will be the deciding factor.

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