State ready to expand $21M slots monitoring system

Via Capital Gazette

State’s central lottery system watches play, payouts and taxpayers’ share

Sliding dollar bill after dollar bill into a slot machine often seems futile.

The machine is always hungry; its bright lights and warm colors fail to line up and bring that million-dollar jackpot no matter how many bills you feed it.

Inside the machine constantly crunches cold numbers, pushing it closer to the state-required payout. One slot machine player burns $1,000 while the next could show up and win $870 on a single play, only to pump that money back into the machine and lose it all again.

Lady luck seemingly runs the show, but the machine is actually a computer program connected to a central system of servers, computers and wires that ensure the casinos are following the rules.

“At any location in the state, the system interrogates that software to insure it is approved by the state,” said Charles LaBoy, Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency assistant director for gaming.

State law requires slots to pay out at least 87 percent back to the player. The Lottery and Gaming Control Agency uses a central system to monitor the machines, their movements and changes to thousands of video lottery terminals — VLTs — throughout the state.

The system cost Maryland taxpayers about $21 million over five years, and the state is ready to spend another $20 million to renew its contract and expand it to include the incoming MGM casino.

The system is a hive of black servers stored in a room in Baltimore next to a group of tech employees that handle requests, alerts and various other tools. The system oversees the 8,416 VLTs in five casinos across Maryland.