Md. lottery sales system stalls for 23 minutes

Company to be fined for computer outage during peak period

September 06, 2000|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A computer problem shut down Maryland's lottery games for 23 minutes yesterday, and state officials say the private company that runs the lottery will be fined for the statewide outage.

The shutdown occurred during a peak time for ticket sales, the midday lunch period, said lottery Director Buddy W. Roogow.

He said the company that runs the Maryland lottery - Automated Wagering International Inc. - must make up the state's revenue losses under its contract with the state.

"We think total sales for all games that were lost is somewhere around $80,000," Roogow said.

He said AWI will have to pay the amount of net revenue that the state lost on that sales figure, which would result in a fine of about $32,000.

Roogow said the system was shut to all "online" lottery games, such as Pick 3, Pick 4 and Keno, from 12:15 p.m. to 12:38 p.m. because of problems with a computer disk drive.

Jimmy White, a spokesman for the lottery, said other technical problems left AWI unable to immediately activate its backup computer system.

In effect, he said, AWI was not able to close down the malfunctioning computer system - a necessary step before the backup system could be activated.

"They scrambled and found another way to get the backup system up and running," White said.

Roogow said he is confident that AWI will determine what went wrong and will take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"It's something they are going to have to make the state whole on, but not something that affects the integrity of the games," Roogow said.

An AWI official did not respond to telephone calls yesterday seeking comment on the computer problems that disrupted the lottery games.

Roogow said he thinks that AWI, which this month won a $46.8 million, five-year contract extension, has done a good job for the state.

The lottery has about 4,000 sales agents and offers players a large number of games using complex hardware and software systems, he said.

"There are going to be glitches, as there are with any computer system, but they have been few and far between," Roogow said.

A statewide interruption in lottery ticket sales for any significant duration is a rare occurrence.

The last such incident occurred on Feb. 2, 1999, when the computer system stopped operating from 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m.

White, the lottery's spokesman, said AWI was fined $13,252 for that episode.

"I think it's impossible to say there's never, ever going to be any downtime," White said. "It's inherent in every system ... that it's going to go down at some point."

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