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Lottery: Tickets stolen during riots may have been cashed

Police officers work as a riot was underway April 27 in Baltimore (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Police officers work as a riot was underway April 27 in Baltimore (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

State lottery officials said Thursday that they are not able to quantify the number of instant lottery tickets that were stolen during the April rioting in Baltimore that may have been subsequently cashed.

Gina Smith, assistant director and chief financial officer for the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Agency, said investigators worked in the early hours of the riot to determine which vendors were affected and to block tickets to prevent them from being cashed.

“That prevented a liability from occurring because if the tickets were stolen and then later attempted to be cashed on the street, they would be blocked and people would not be able to cash the ticket,” Smith said.

Smith acknowledged that some stolen tickets may have slipped through and were cashed. But nearly two months out from the riots that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray, who died of injuries sustained while in police custody, the exact nature of potential liabilities are difficult for the agency to define.

“That is extremely difficult to quantify and I’m not sure that we would be able to,” Smith said of the number of stolen tickets that may have been successfully redeemed or the potential loss to the state agency.

A lottery spokeswoman, in an emailed statement, said officials believe there are an “immeasurably small number of tickets that could have escaped our process”

Smith said about 40 lottery retailers were affected by the riot in late April.

Books, each of which can contain up to 300 instant tickets, are sold to retailers who pay the agency upfront, meaning the agency knows which tickets went to a particular vendor. That’s where it gets complicated.

Some stores have the ability to scan the bar codes unique to each ticket as a way of inventory tracking and control. Officials said not all vendors are fastidious when it comes to scanning them. Additionally, store owners may have delayed reporting stolen tickets or not reported them at all.

“If it wasn’t reported then we wouldn’t have known about it,” Smith said.

“It would be very difficult to identify a stolen ticket which we were unaware of actually got cashed. If they don’t notify the lottery, we don’t know what to block,” Smith said.

The exact amount that the agency could be on the hook for and whether or not that liability comes solely from winnings that might be paid out on unblocked stolen tickets, is not known nearly two months later.

“There’s no way to quantify that, unfortunately,” Smith said.

The agency is looking for ways to improve its control systems to make it easier to quickly identify stolen tickets and prevent them from being cashed in, Smith said.

Slots, merger approved for Rocky Gap

The commission also unanimously approved two requests made by Rocky Gap Casino.

The commission signed off on the proposed $128 million merger in which Golden Gaming of Las Vegas will acquire Lakes Entertainment in an all-stock transaction. The largest single shareholder of the new company will be the Blake L. Sartini and Delise F. Sartini Family Trust, which will hold 37.5 percent of the new company, according to a report compiled by state gaming analysts.

Blake L. Sartini will be the president of and chairman of the board of new company, which will be called Golden Entertainment.

The commission also approved the casino’s plan to add 54 new slots to the 577 already in operation at the western Maryland facility. Two dozen machines will be placed on the existing gaming floor. The additional 30 machines would be located in a new semi-enclosed outdoor gaming area that could be used by gamblers who also smoke. The casino plans to install a pressurized HVAC system that will force smoke away from the casino while also keeping out the inclement weather, according to plans filed with the commission.