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Slots at Ocean Downs Casino in Ocean City

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The new director of the Maryland Lottery said slot machines at Ocean Downs should be ready before the end of the year and gaming technology here needs to be competitive with gambling in neighboring states. Stephen Martino said slots at the Berlin race track will be a lot like those in casinos in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Atlantic City. They have to be, he said, to convince people to gamble here and not there.”This is a hyper-competitive gaming environment; people have a lot of choice,” he said in an interview. “There really aren’t a lot of gambling options when you go south, and we hope this is one of a number of facilities in Maryland that will cause people to stop … eat at the restaurants, stay at the hotel rooms and generate some economic development for the community.”

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Martino said he would like to mark his calendar for a late December opening at Ocean Downs, but that depends on construction progress.

A slots parlor at the harness racing facility was supposed to have been ready by Memorial Day, but aging steel beams, asbestos and lead paint found last winter in the track’s grandstand held up the project. Demolition was halted and construction delayed until those issues were resolved.

Those delays also put off racing for the summer season. Track owners obtained special permission from the state racing commission to hold harness races on just one day in order to keep their license. Martino said a full racing schedule is intended for 2011.

Martino said the 800 slot machines will be protected by many layers of safeguards and internal controls to prevent fraud or abuse.

A central computer monitors the play and activity of every slot machine on the floor. The system can tell operators anything they want to know about any machine on the floor at any time.

“It gives us the ability to disable a machine; it gives us alarms and notifications if a door to the machine has been opened,” he said. “That is our first and probably most significant safeguard.”

Collection and handling of money will all be conducted under strict procedures by six lottery compliance officers, Martino said. They will be on hand 24 hours a day and are the ones who report violations if any occur.

“A lot of the important stuff is going to take place between 2 (a.m.) and 6 (a.m.) when the facility is closed. They’ll drop all the money from the machines at that time, they’ll take it to their count room. They’ll make any kind of adjustments to the machines, to the floor, so we’ll have people there to monitor and make sure that’s being done correctly,” he said.

It’s also not clear when the first batch of slot machines will be delivered, Martino said, because that also is a construction-dependent item. Internal building wiring as well as a surveillance system must be complete before any machines are installed.

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