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New bills causing problems

November 23, 1998

Video lotteryBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

file photo




If you head to the video slots room at Charles Town Races, don't bother putting your new-design $20 bill into one of the machines. It won't take it.

Charles Town Races next month will finish upgrading the bill accepters on all 800 of its gaming machines. Until then, customers will have to be content with using the old greenbacks, said Bill Bork Jr., market director of the race track.

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"For the past couple of weeks, we've had to separate the old 20s and the new 20s," he said.

It is one of dozens of negative side effects of the new design, which was created to foil counterfeiters.

The U.S. Postal Service is spending millions of dollars to retrofit its stamp machines.

"They've been working on it. We're not the only ones having a problem with this," said Wayne Bender, the officer in charge and postmaster at the Hagerstown Post Office.

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The multi-commodity machine at the post office now has a sign telling people their new money will not be accepted.

Bender said he expects the machine to be upgraded by January. Until then, customers with the new bills can buy stamps at the counter, he said.

"It's a wait-and-see right now," he said.

At the race track, workers will begin upgrading the slot machines when the company receives permits from the state lottery board in about 10 days, officials said.

The total cost will be about $8,000, Bork said.

"It's more of a customer service problem than it is financial," he said. "It's a pain."

It's a hassle to the employees as well, said Ted Schieffer, director of gaming operations.

"You have to go into each machine," he said.

The machines vary slightly depending on the manufacturer, Schieffer said. As a result, the bill validators require different fixes to make them accept the new money.

For instance, some machines can be fixed by installing new software, Schieffer said. But others require workers to physically replace the computer chip, he said.

After the race track gets the proper permits, Schieffer estimated the work will take between five and seven days.

Larry Felix, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, said the new design is essential to stay ahead of counterfeiters, who have an easier time copying the old money because of sophisticated new computer equipment.

He said government officials have kept the nation's two leading makers of vending machine bill accepters informed of the impending changes. But while they were ready with new software to recognize the new bills, he said many users did not purchase the new equipment.

Those users will again have to upgrade in 2000, when the newly designed $10 and $5 bills are expected to be released, Felix said.

Initially, the bills were supposed to be released over two years, but Felix said the government decided to release them at the same time so manufacturers would be able to upgrade their equipment in one shot.

"We listened to them and agreed," he said.

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