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Slot technicians put on notice

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Lottery Commission will send letters to all video slot machine technicians and operators, warning that they'll be fined and lose their licenses if they tamper with the terminals.

The statewide warning follows a Lottery Commission investigation that found that cash-box switches on about a dozen machines had been altered. The switches send a signal to the Lottery's main computer terminal when the metal boxes are opened to retrieve customer money.

On Thursday, the Lottery Commission fined Clarksburg-based Shaffer Amusement Co. $10,000 for allegedly operating at least 10 re-wired machines. Shaffer is one of West Virginia's largest video slot machine distributors. Two of Shaffer's technicians, Lawson Mangum and Kenneth Howell, were fined $1,000 each and placed on probation for six months.

State law prohibits anyone from tampering with video slot machines.

"We do not want the integrity of our games compromised in any sense," said Lottery Director John Musgrave after Thursday's commission meeting. "To have someone go into the inner workings of a machine and change something is a great deal of concern to the Lottery Commission."

The agency started its investigation in February 2012 after receiving reports about altered machines at video lottery parlors.

Lottery security employees fanned out across the state and inspected more than 7,500 machines, Musgrave said. They said they found 10 altered machines -- located at video poker parlors in Chester, Shady Spring and New Manchester -- owned by Shaffer Amusement.

Inspectors said they discovered three additional tampered-with machines -- owned by Rekop Inc. -- at a Dunbar video parlor.Rekop, which hires subcontractors to service its slot machines, hasn't admitted to any wrongdoing. The commission will review the case in June.

Musgrave said the way the machines were re-wired didn't affect video lottery game play or give retailers or distributors any extra financial advantage over customers. Instead, he said, the technicians jerry-rigged the machines in such a way that the Lottery's central computer wouldn't receive online messages when the machines' cash boxes were opened.

Mangum and Howell told commissioners Thursday that cash-box switches frequently break and that they rewired the machines to bypass the switches. They said they forgot to return later to the video gambling parlors with new switches. They also acknowledged that they didn't record the changes in a maintenance and repair diary housed inside the video lottery machines.

"Nothing inside the machine is ever allowed to be altered," Musgrave said. "I think there's no excuse not to know."

Musgrave recommended that the commission strip the technicians' licenses.

"To say, 'just don't do it again,'" he said, "I think that sends the wrong message to the industry."

However, commission members said Musgrave's suggested penalty was too harsh. Commissioners said the technicians apparently didn't receive proper training to service the machines -- manufactured by IGT. The technicians also publicly acknowledged their mistake, commision members pointed out.

Commissioners could have fined Shaffer Amusement up to $100,000 but, instead, issued a $1,000 fine for each of the distributor's machines that were altered. The company owns 360 video slot machines statewide.

West Virginia has more than 350 licensed technicians who service video lottery terminals.

Also Thursday, the Lottery reported:

• Racetrack video lottery revenue was $490,976,493, up 18 percent over the previous month. Track table game revenue was $55 million, up 21 percent from February. The Greenbrier resort's table games totaled $2.1 million.

• Limited video lottery revenue totaled $299,614,604, an increase of 9 percent from February. 

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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