AWI delays takeover of Md. lottery Firm sought 28 days to resolve flaws in software it delivered

Ariz. fired company in May

Some lawmakers fear interruptions in $1 billion program

June 26, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

The beleaguered company that was scheduled to take over Maryland's lottery games next month told state officials yesterday it needs an extra 28 days to get ready.

The request for a delay came after the company, Automated Wagering International Inc. -- which recently was fired by Arizona's lottery for poor performance -- delivered flawed software to Maryland this month, a state lottery official said.

At a hastily called meeting in Annapolis, top state legislators greeted news of the request nervously and, in some cases, angrily. Some said they feared that the same kind of computer glitches that bothered AWI in Arizona might mar Maryland's $1 billion a year lottery operation.

The lottery plans to grant the extension until Aug. 19 and give the Atlanta firm a chance to prove itself, said Maryland's acting lottery director, William W. Saltzman.

At the legislature's request, the lottery is arranging for its current contractor, GTECH Corp. of Rhode Island, to continue running the computer system for a month after its contract expires July 24.

Lottery officials said the extension could cost the state $600,000, but AWI could be forced to pay that amount. "We'll assess penalties if necessary," Saltzman said.

AWI won Maryland's lottery contract from archrival GTECH after pledging to run the games for roughly $53 million over five years -- less than half the cost that GTECH proposed.

Saltzman said he is talking to GTECH about staying on board even beyond the extra month to make sure AWI can do the job.

GTECH spokesman Stephen G. White said his company is negotiating with the Maryland lottery but said he could not confirm any agreement with the state until it is final.

One state senator grumbled that AWI's request came just a few weeks after its president, Mark L. Cushing, publicly assured legislators that his company would be able to meet its July 22 deadline to take over lottery operations.

"I think we've been lied to. I think we've been misled," said Sen. John A. Cade, an Anne Arundel County Republican.

"We cannot afford a disaster in the lottery. It is a major revenue producer, and we cannot afford for it to go down for any period of time," he said.

Arizona lottery officials fired AWI last month in part because its computer system broke down frequently. Maryland will be getting a similar system, though larger and more complex.

In a telephone interview last night, Cushing said he did not mislead Cade. "He's not been misled. I'm sorry he thinks that."

Cushing contended that GTECH was about a month late this spring in providing his company with computer tapes containing information necessary for the transition.

"We lost over a month to develop and test our software," he said. Still, until recently his company believed it could make up the time and meet the original deadline, he said.

GTECH's White denied that his company was a month late in delivering tapes, but he declined to elaborate. "We don't think it serves any purpose to step down from the high road."

Lottery director Saltzman acknowledged a delay involving the tapes, but said GTECH was cooperative when contacted about it.

He continued to express confidence that AWI will succeed in Maryland, but he tempered his optimism for the first time yesterday. "I believe they can do the job, but I have a certain healthy amount of skepticism because of the Arizona situation," he told legislators.

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

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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