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D.C. Lottery gets numbers of complaints

Transition to Intralot system results in glitches, long lines

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Change did not come easily Tuesday for D.C. Lottery retailers and customers, who waited in lines and struggled with a new lottery system run by Greek gaming giant Intralot and Maryland businessman Emmanuel S. Bailey.

After an unprecedented five-hour delay in commencing the lottery system — about three hours of which put off payouts from winning numbers — users on both sides of the bulletproof glass in D.C. convenience stores began the day with a host of complaints.

The Washington Times visited six retailers at random in the four quadrants of the city and heard complaints including the design of the new betting slips, glitches in the touch-screen terminals and the slow responses of lottery officials and operators to calls for assistance.

Just after 11 a.m. at Mudrick's Supermarket in the Trinidad neighborhood of Northeast, Donald Martin longed for the old betting slips now piled in a garbage can in the corner of the store. He was dismayed by the requirement that he fill out a separate box on the new slips for each number he wished to play.

"Man, are they trying to lose money with this thing?" he said, as a lottery official scrambled to stock shelves with new betting slips and replace the old D.C. Lottery pencils with pens.

The official, Sandra Mitchell, said she was among 15 dispatched to address customer concerns and retailer needs across the city. Pausing to point out the new lottery logo, which is supposed to represent a cherry blossom, she said: "We tested different logos and people responded to this one without even recognizing what it is."

At nearby Stanton Liquors on Bladensburg Road in Northeast, Ms. Mitchell's colleague, Chul Hong, acknowledged that store owners had been calling for help, but some said that was to be expected on the first day of a lottery system that replaced one run by the same operators for 27 years.

A new lottery contract was awarded last year to Intralot after a contentious procurement process during which Mr. Bailey, who heads Veterans Services Corp. (VSC), became a 51 percent partner. That process is now being investigated by the D.C. inspector general's office.

Since its inception in 1983, the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board in Anacostia housed the computer server that communicated with lottery terminals in retail outlets throughout the city. Under the new system, the server is in Ohio. While Intralot's proposal called for an Internet-based communication system, D.C. officials said, it delivered a less-sophisticated system based on cable and wireless service.

Meanwhile, across the Anacostia River at O'Connor's Liquors on Minnesota Avenue in Southeast, more than a dozen people stood in line and grew increasingly grouchy as store owner John Ahn stood behind the plate-glass-enclosed counter and stared at the blank screen of one of the two lottery terminals.

"The new machines are too slow," Mr. Ahn said apologetically, prompting a woman named Nonie to reply: "We already know that. It's a damn mess."

A beefy man in a Boston Celtics jacket stepped into the store, took a look at the line and turned around and left.

Standing patiently in line, Andrea Edmonds said she waited 15 minutes for a lottery ticket at Penn Branch Liquors in Southeast and walked out of Fairfax Liquors because more than 20 people were in line. "This is my third store today," she said, shaking her head.

Mr. Ahn said he called the D.C. Lottery to come and fix his non-responsive terminal, but he could not reach anyone. "I called many times, the phone was busy," he said.

"That's D.C.; that's the people they hired to run this," said Rodney Smith. "They knew what they were doing yesterday under the old system. They should have had technicians out here today."

Near Nationals Park at the foot of the South Capitol Street Bridge in Southwest, Cap Liquors' sign reads "Last Stop in D.C." — but not for a lottery ticket, not as of 2 p.m. Store owner Jackie Lam manned the counter with a glum look, standing behind a small white sign taped to the bulletproof glass that read, "Line Down."

Asked how many lottery tickets he ordinarily sells, Mr. Lam said 1,200 tickets each day and about the same number each night. Asked how many he had sold Tuesday, he said: "None. Nothing. Too many stores and not enough people to get the terminals fixed. They say they are coming today. I don't know when."

In Northwest, lottery players were having trouble adjusting to the new betting slips, said Yebeltal Kebede, owner of ABC Grocery at Sixth and O streets. "Too many numbers on the slips and the spaces to fill in are too small," Mr. Kebede said, adding that some of his elderly customers had given up and gone home.

"We don't like it," said a man named Valencio, whose companion Kim had been at the counter off and on for an hour trying to play all her numbers. "They don't know what they're doing yet."

The story was no different at Guilford Liquors on Rhode Island Avenue and Fifth Street Northwest. "I like the old slips better," said Sam Johnson, who said he plays the lottery every day. The new slips are too thin and have to be handled too carefully to avoid ink rubbing off, he said. "If I hit my number and my number comes off, are they still gonna pay me?"

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