D.C. Lottery’s Race to Riches game often not running

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D.C. Lottery Executive Director Buddy Roogow showed his optimism in July when he sent an e-mail to DC09, the joint venture that operates the lottery: “The project is going to go well. Get ready to set records.”

But after a questionable procurement and approval process that put the lottery in the hands of a new vendor for the first time in 27 years and a new operating system that has produced mixed reviews from retailers and customers alike, Mr. Roogow has been forced to resolve technical difficulties with the lottery’s latest premier product, Race to Riches, which simulates horse racing on video terminals in about 80 retail outlets across the city.

While lotteries in Virginia and Maryland are setting sales records, an insufficient telecommunications network to support the D.C. Lottery’s signature new game is the latest sour development for Mr. Roogow, who is staring at a 10 percent decrease in revenue in recent years that, along with a $200 million city budget gap, has prompted the District to make a long-shot bid for online poker.

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council will review for a second time a budget amendment bill it quietly approved on Dec. 7 by an 11-2 vote that would establish a private computer network run by the D.C. Lottery to allow customers to play online poker in the District in their homes or in hotels, bars and restaurants.

In the meantime, lottery officials are promoting Race to Riches as a more sophisticated answer to the Maryland Lottery’s Racetrax game, which is designed to offer “the thrill of being at the track with the payout and prizes similar to live horse betting.”

The District’s version was developed by Denver-based Tournament One Corp., a lottery subcontractor, said sales and marketing representative Tom Kidneigh. The software allows for 15 million race outcomes, Mr. Kidneigh said, and was custom built for the D.C. area, with animated graphics and audio featuring the voices of real horse-racing announcers.

“It’s about as real as it gets,” said Mr. Kidneigh.

Except the game was rolled out shortly before it was due to go live at retail outlets, lottery officials say, and lottery agents soon discovered technical problems.

Joseph Park, owner of Watergate Wine & Beverage, said the Race to Riches game at his store was rebooting in the middle of races, preventing customers from watching the animated horse race live on the video screen installed by the lottery vendors. “I’ve called many times and they said they are going to fix it,” he said recently.

Yong Sok, owner of the 800 Corner Store on North Capitol Street in Northwest, said his video monitor wasn’t working at all. After a mechanic came out to have a look, he said, lottery officials told him to shut it off until they fixed the system.

At Tenley Mini-Market, the area’s most popular and winningest lottery retailer, The Washington Times bet on three straight animated horse races recently without interruption and lost $5.20.

On Friday, Mr. Roogow’s spokeswoman, Athena Hernandez, said that “in a few locations,” it is necessary to switch telecommunications providers “to achieve a richer video display without interruption.” But lottery officials, who spoke with The Times on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deal, said roughly half of the retail outlets have reported glitches related to the system’s wireless 4G network, with some reporting complete failure. They said the wireless network is being replaced by Comcast cable on a case-by-case basis.

The cost of the transition from 4G to cable is being absorbed by Greek gaming giant Intralot, a 49 percent partner in DC09, along with a Virginia company called Veterans Services Corp. (VSC), run by Maryland businessman Emmanuel Bailey. Ms. Hernandez called the Race to Riches system launch “a major accomplishment,” but declined to disclose the cost of the repairs.

David J. Umansky, a spokesman for the D.C. office of the chief financial officer, which oversees the lottery, declined to comment, saying he has decided not to talk to The Times because of its negative bias on previous lottery stories.

Mr. Bailey, DC09 president and chief executive officer, also declined to comment and threatened to file a police report alleging unauthorized entry after The Times visited his offices on Dec. 10. Mr. Bailey followed the threat with a letter to The Times titled “Cease and Desist unlawful and fraudulent entry upon premises.”

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