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Phone trouble halts lottery sales for 6 hours

December 09, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

On Monday, lottery players were having a hard time getting clerks to take their money.

That's because 329 lottery machines were down in Washington County for about six hours because of a problem with AT&T phone lines, according to Maryland Lottery spokesman Brian Johnson and AT&T spokesman Dave Johnson.

Snow that melted and froze on an AT&T microwave tower outside Hagerstown probably was the culprit that caused the lottery machines to go down, a problem that also affected some long-distance callers on Monday, AT&T spokesman Dave Johnson said.

Callers experiencing problems encountered a fast busy signal or a recording saying all circuits were busy and to try later, Dave Johnson said.

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AT&T crews rerouted as many of the circuits as they could and still were working on the tower as dusk fell, said Dave Johnson in a telephone interview from the Global Networks Operations Center in Bedminster, N.J.

The problem started around 10 a.m., he said.

Dave Johnson said AT&T got "almost no complaints." Many calls still were going through, he said.

Many regular lottery players stop in Old Orchard Liquors in the morning to get their tickets, employees said.

Several of them were calling the store later in the day Monday to find out if the machines were back in operation, clerk Sherry Carter said. The machines went down around 11:15 a.m., she said.

Russell Hillyard, 76, of Halfway, walked into the store in Halfway around 3 p.m. Monday and handed Carter a few scratch-off game tickets to get his winnings. Instead, he was handed back the tickets because lottery vendors couldn't pay out winnings while the machines were down. They only could sell scratch-off games because the other games require a phone connection.

So Hillyard took a seat in one of two chairs in front of the counter and a television screen that displayed a scenic view instead of the usual Keno numbers.

Hillyard said he usually comes in at 3 p.m. to buy scratch-off and Pick 3 tickets, play the tip jar and talk to his friends at the store before going to supper at Western Sizzlin Steakhouse. Instead of buying, Hillyard had a seat to wait out the lottery machine problem.

Brian Johnson said the machines were expected to be back online by 4 p.m.

But, as 5 p.m. approached, the machines at Old Orchard Liquors still were down and the evening lottery crowd was not happy, Carter said.

"They don't like it. They don't like it at all," she said.

Tickets for the evening drawings for Pick 3 and Pick 4 are halted at approximately 7:55 p.m., Carter said. The midday drawing sales are stopped shortly before 12:30 p.m.

About 90 minutes later, patrons at Central City Liquors were not having any better luck. Store employees Melinda White, Abby Zombro and Mike Nunamaker said together they handled at least 50 phone calls from potential lottery players.

"I've only been here 20 minutes and the phone rang five times," Nunamaker said.

Zombro said many store regulars were upset because they could not play Keno at the venue or play "their numbers" for the Monday evening Pick 3, Pick 4 and Bonus Match 5 drawings.

"It's been seven hours. That's the longest in like 20 years," Zombro said.

White said employees were given no indication whether the lottery machines would be back online again Monday evening.

Staff Writer Brian Shappell contributed to this story.

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