State legislators advise lottery officials to hedge bets on operator's performance Backup plan suggested amid jitters over AWI

June 05, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

Worried state legislators told Maryland lottery officials yesterday to develop a backup plan in case their new contractor fails to perform when it takes over lottery operations next month.

Legislators said they were alarmed that the contractor, Automated Wagering International, was fired by the Arizona lottery last month for poor performance. AWI is installing a computer system in Maryland that is similar, although larger and more complex, than the one rejected by Arizona.

"We think you should come up with a contingency plan," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat. "We can't afford for these games to go down for a minute."

Lottery games bring more than $1 million a day into state coffers.

Bromwell helped lead an unusual meeting of four House and Senate committees called to discuss AWI's takeover of a $53 million lottery contract from the GTECH Corp. AWI will operate and supply Maryland's lottery computers and games beginning July 22.

Obviously upset by reports from Arizona, many lawmakers expressed doubts that AWI could do the job. Some criticized the lottery for agreeing in December to extend certain deadlines AWI must meet in installing its computer system.

"We're going to be the guinea pig that Arizona decided not to be," said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Republican.

Lottery officials and AWI's president tried to assure legislators that there would be no problems. "I think they can do the job," acting lottery Director William W. Saltzman said of AWI.

Saltzman said he saw no need for a contingency plan. But after the three-hour meeting, he said he would consider one.

Legislators told him to see if GTECH could remain in Maryland after its contract ends July 24, while the state determines if AWI's computer system works.

A GTECH vice president, William A. Fox, said his company would consider such a request but must hear something from the lottery by June 12.

Lottery officials defended their decision to extend by as many as 112 days 11 deadlines that AWI must meet before it takes over.

Saltzman said the lottery decided to go with a "big bang" conversion -- turning on all new computers the same day -- rather than the phase-in it originally sought.

In bidding for the contract, both GTECH and AWI had recommended against a phase-in, which would have resulted in the state running two different keno games at the same time, he said.

The "big bang" conversion did not require the earlier deadlines, said Edward Perry, the lottery's deputy director for data processing. Perry said he also believed the final product would be improved if AWI had the extra time to accomplish certain tasks.

AWI President Mark L. Cushing said his firm did not have enough preparation time to take over the Arizona system -- two months -- compared with the eight months it has had in Maryland.

According to Arizona lottery officials, AWI computers broke down too often, failed to validate some winning instant tickets, and made it impossible for the state to collect instant ticket receipts from stores for several months.

Cushing's comments appeared to smooth some ruffled legislative feathers. "Mr. Cushing did a pretty good job of calming the troops," Bromwell said after the meeting.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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