Lottery installs satellite system

Some terminals crash earlier in the week

July 15, 2006|By JULIE SCHARPER | JULIE SCHARPER,SUN REPORTER

Maryland lottery players can expect faster, more reliable games - even in thunderstorms - thanks to a new satellite system connected this week, Lottery officials said yesterday.

But retailers didn't feel as if they had hit the jackpot earlier in the week, when their terminals unexpectedly crashed and stayed down for hours. The problems seemed to have been fixed by the end of the week.

"It's been very awful," said Michele Denisio, owner of the Bird River Inn in Middle River. "The games freezing up, not having access to them for the whole day." Denisio said the connection improved as the week wore on.

"In any conversion of this nature, we know that there are going to be some individual difficulties," Lottery Director Buddy W. Roogow said yesterday. The benefits of the new system, which replaces often unreliable telephone connections, far outweigh the growing pains, Roogow said.

The satellite system is more efficient, easier for retailers to use and costs the state less money, Roogow said. Maryland is the ninth state to switch to a satellite lottery system, he said.

At 9 p.m. Sunday, lottery terminals went down so the new system could be installed. Most retailers were able to use the new connections starting at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Roogow said.

However, about one in 20 of the state's approximately 3,800 lottery retailers will not be able to use the satellite connections because they are located in a tall building, a mountainous area or federally owned property where the satellite is prohibited, Roogow said. Those stores will use wireless or DSL connections, he said.

Yet even retailers with satellites complained of hours or even days without a connection after the system switched over Monday morning.

"It was goofy for a couple days," said Vinny Liberto, manager of the Holiday House on Harford Road. His machine was crashing and not accepting tickets Monday and Tuesday.

Raphael Oji, the manager of Broadway Pharmacy at the corner of Broadway and Baltimore Street, estimated he lost $1,100 in sales because his lottery machine didn't come back on until Tuesday afternoon. Lottery retailers make a nickel on each dollar of lottery sales.

Other agents said their biggest challenge was simply adjusting to the new system, which uses a touch-screen and different Keno graphics.

"You used the old system for so many year, you could do it with your eyes closed," said Teresa Kindrock, the manager of the Purple Goose Saloon in Morrell Park, adding that the lottery's technical support has been very helpful.

"It's been pretty smooth," said Pete Samios, the president of the 400-plus-member Maryland Lottery Agents Association. "I think we're past most of the problems."

For the past few months, as the new terminals were being installed, many lottery retailers experienced sporadic crashes that were exacerbated by heavy rainstorms and thunderstorms. Lottery officials said they have not estimated how much revenue was lost during the transition.

In the 2005 fiscal year, the lottery pumped more than $477 million into the state's general fund.

Monday's lottery sales, not including scratch-offs, were $2.3 million, down from $2.8 million on the same Monday a year ago. However, Thursday's total sales exceeded sales for last year by $300,000, Roogow said.

Lottery retailers were happy that the system was running smoothly again.

"As far as the downtime and the glitches, I think they did a pretty nice job," said Rob Santoni, owner of Santoni's market in Highlandtown, which he said does over $3 million in lottery sales a year. "I think you just have to take the little bumps."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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