State lottery picks a new number Winners: Maryland Lottery numbers used to be available by toll-free local and 1-800 phone calls. Since Thursday, however, the phone service costs 45 cents a minute.

August 03, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

Want to call the lottery to see if your lucky numbers hit? From now on, it's going to cost you.

People dialing the Maryland Lottery for a recording of the winning numbers are being referred to a new 900 phone number. Calls to it cost 45 cents a minute; a typical call may last one to two minutes.

The lottery quietly replaced its toll-free local and 800 telephone numbers with a 900 line that operated for its first full day yesterday.

"It's outrageous, don't you think?" asked Lotto player Walter Holtz, a retired police officer from Severna Park. "You mean to tell me that people that play the lottery, who have been playing all their lives, got to pay on their phone bill to find out if they won?"

"Tacky," said state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who learned of the 900 line from a reporter.

"The lottery takes in tons of money from these citizens, and I don't think they should have to pay 45 cents a minute for information," said Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate committee that oversees the lottery budget.

Players spend more than $1 billion a year on various lottery games, returning an estimated $459 million to state coffers.

Lottery spokesman Carroll H. Hynson Jr. said the agency ended its free phone service because it was costly and the 900 line offered an opportunity to make a profit.

"It was a pure business decision," he said. The "lottery administration" decided to make the switch, he said, and "probably" mentioned it to legislators during their last session.

The free phone numbers had cost the lottery from $70,000 to $80,000 a year, he said. But the 900 number is expected to earn from $500,000 to $750,000 for the state.

That profit estimate, which Hynson called "conservative," takes into account an expected 25 percent to 30 percent decline in calls. The lottery had been receiving an average of 1 million calls a month to its free lines, he said.

Although usually not shy about issuing news releases touting the latest about the lottery, the agency did not announce this change.

Hynson said he knew that players who used the free lines would find out about the 900 line when they dialed the old numbers.

On Thursday, players who called 800-678-9467 and, in the Baltimore area, 764-4528 for winning ticket information began hearing a recording that asked them to call 900-680-5555 at a charge of 45 cents a minute. The 900 number was beset by opening-day glitches and was not fully operational until yesterday.

The new line provides callers an option of current winning numbers, those that hit during the previous six months, and general lottery information.

Hynson said the lottery logged 50 to 100 complaints about the new line yesterday and 20 on Thursday. He did not know how many calls the 900 number received.

Players may continue to obtain the winning numbers for free by visiting stores that sell lottery tickets, listening to radio, watching drawings on WJZ-TV (Channel 13) or calling phone numbers set up by media organizations. (See box). Many newspapers, including The Sun, publish the winning numbers.

Maryland is following the lead of other state lotteries that have adopted 900 numbers for winning ticket information, Hynson said.

Pennsylvania launched its 900 number, which costs callers 50 cents a minute, three weeks ago, said Pennsylvania Lottery spokeswoman Sally Hamady. "We've had our share of complaints. People have called and said it's ridiculous," she said.

The Virginia lottery plans to install two 900 numbers in the future, said spokesman Edward A. Scarborough. That lottery is spending $1.5 million a year on its current toll-free number, which will be phased out.

Hynson said the Maryland Lottery did not seek bids for the 900 line. Instead, the agency asked its long-distance company -- AT&T -- to provide the service.

Get the numbers

Some media organizations provide free information on winning lottery numbers.

* The Baltimore Sun's Sundial 410-783-1800, code 6020

* The Washington Post Haste 202-334-9000, code 7000

* Frederick Sound Source 800-773-5587, code 6

* Delaware State News Phone 302-674-9999, code 5690

* Drawings on WJZ-TV (Channel 13) at 12: 28 p.m. and 7: 56 p.m.

Source: Maryland Lottery

Pub Date: 8/03/96

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