- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland lottery officials are looking into whether they could license machines that feature the flashing lights and sounds of slot machines but are legal under current laws.

The machines would look like slots, officials said, but operate on the same principle as scratch-off lottery tickets — a central database would hold a predetermined number of winning and losing combinations, which would be randomly distributed to players.

“There’s no doubt that the two technologies are converging ” meaning, slots and lottery ” where we can as a lottery do so much more with interactive machines than we could in the past,” lottery director Buddy Roogow told the Baltimore Sun. “We can create machines that, I think, fall under the technical definition of lottery but look and play like slots.”

In January, Maryland lottery officials visited racetracks in New York, which adopted a similar system after the New York Legislature failed to endorse an amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed full-fledged slots.

Frank Bonaventure, chairman of Maryland’s lottery commission, said no decisions have been made about whether the lottery should pursue slotlike machines.

But he said that on the fact-finding mission in New York, he saw no real difference between the video lottery machines and slots.

“People were sitting there and putting in quarters,” he said.

Mr. Roogow said the lottery would need to determine what is allowed under Maryland law, but such a system could help the lottery keep its share of the market.

“It provides entertainment and amusement that some of the more traditional lottery games don’t provide, and that’s the competition we face from slot machines,” Mr. Roogow said.

One kind of quasi-slot machine already is in commercial use at a Calvert County restaurant and has been declared legal by Maryland courts under state bingo statutes.

The prospect of slot-machine clones installed by the state without legislation could be political dynamite — even slots supporters say they’re nervous about such a possibility.

But with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake and leaders in the state Senate and House of Delegates seemingly divided on expanded gambling, such an alternative could provide an attractive fallback for the pro-slots administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

“It’s not a reasonable way to go,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who has pushed for slots. “But it’s inevitable that people are going to do that.”

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor is focused on legislation that would legalize slot machines and hasn’t taken a position on their clones. But he said the lottery’s interest is appropriate.

The machines Mr. Ehrlich prefers are traditional, Las Vegas-style slots, which rely on a set of spinning reels that create random combinations of bars, cherries, oranges or other symbols that determine whether a player wins or loses.

Newer, computerized machines do essentially the same thing, but rely on a microchip to create the random combinations.

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