Patent gives firm a claim on lottery

Scientific Games could collect fee

Staff WriterApril 19, 2006 

Scientific Games might get a piece of North Carolina's lottery action after all.

When the state joins the multi-state Powerball game May 30, the big jackpot game probably will offer a feature allowing players to pay extra for a separate drawing to have winnings (other than the jackpot) multiplied by a random number.

But Scientific Games -- now under investigation by the state for possible violations of lobbying law -- owns the patent to the extra feature, known as Power Play.

Lottery officials said Tuesday that they want to offer the feature as part of Powerball, as the other 28 Powerball states do.

But the state would have to pay Scientific Games for the rights. The fee would be at least $240,000 a year, officials said.

Waiver is possible

The state also could contract with Scientific Games for some lottery business, which probably would lead to a waiver of the fee, officials said.

Lottery officials contracted with GTECH Corp. of Rhode Island to handle its lottery games.

The state's contract with GTECH allows it to use another vendor, such as Scientific Games, for up to four scratch-off games.

Lottery director Tom Shaheen said that is an option that the lottery commission should explore.

He said the state would at least receive tickets for its spending, versus simply paying a fee.

Commissioners indicated a willingness to explore legal action before paying fees to the company.

Commissioner Max Cogburn Jr., a lawyer from Asheville, said he wondered how a company could patent what is essentially the idea of multiplying winnings.

Executives at Scientific Games, which employed a political aide close to House Speaker Jim Black and had a hand in writing the state's lottery law, could not be reached.

Staff writer J. Andrew Curliss can be reached at 829-4840 or acurliss@newsobserver.com.

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