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Massachussetts bets on slot-machine revenue

Puritan-rooted Massachusetts may be on the threshold of becoming the Las Vegas of New England. While Nevada-based casino operators are pressing to set up shop in a nearby resort town, a rival firm from Chicago is approaching a back-door entrance to the potentially lucrative Bay State gambling market.

Bally Corporation, operators of one of the Atlantic City emporiums, is designing a special slot machine expected to be introduced here this fall.

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This version of the "one-armed bandit" would dispense state lottery chances in exchange for the proper amount of money. If the number selected is a winner, the machine instantly will spew out from $1 to $300 in prize money.

The Massachusetts Lottery Commission will try it on an experimental basis. Bally will get one-fourth of the profits.

Under a similar arrangement with the New York State Lottery, Multigames Venture Inc. is producing similar coin-fed machines to be tried out in the Empire State about the same time.

The latter contract hinges on a ruling expected within the next few days from New York Attorney General Robert Abrams, who is looking into the legality of such operations.

In Massachusetts, the three-month trial involving 10 of the so-called "one-arm bandits" is running into stiff and increasing opposition, even from some who find no fault with other forms of legalized gambling. Foes contend that introduction of slot machines would create new social problems and thereby overstep the authority of the lottery commission.

They are pushing for legislation to stop the introduction of the machines, but it is questionable whether they will succeed. The late-filed measure requires the backing of four-fifths of both chambers of the the state Legislature.

Much will depend on the success of Secretary of State Michael Joseph Connolly in rallying lawmakers behind a proposal to require legislative approval of this type of gambling. The decision now is in the hands of the lottery commission.

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Another legislative move afoot would require local approval and licensing of any "cash in a flash" electronic slot machines.

Slot machine foes, like state Sen. David H. Locke (R) of Wellesley, want the state attorney general to step in and rule against any such expansion of gambling.

Lottery commission officials are convinced they are on solid legal ground. The 1971 law that established their agency does not restrict operation to the over-the-counter sale of chance tickets. They have no intention of dropping the slot-machine idea. It was approved 4 to 1 last May by the agency's board.

The lone dissenter, state comptroller Robert Sheehan, argues that "slot machines are entirely foreign to the concept of the state lottery." He voices concern that it "would introduce a lot of young people to gambling in a form that might be hard to resist."

He and other critics of expanded lottery operations warn that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to keep the electronic gambling devices out of reach of those too young to legally buy lottery tickets.

Charging that slot machines are "one of the most seductive and vulgarized forms of gambling," Senator Locke holds that the state lottery cfrom its beginning has been little more than a regressive, if voluntary tax."

He has suggested that all lottery chances be inscribed: "Warning: This may be hazardous to your wealth."

The law establishing the commission forbids the sale of chances to any person under age 18. Lottery officials maintain that this need not be a problem since the tentative plan is to place the slot machines in places like bars and other liquor establishments where, under state law, custommers must be at least 20 years old.

The lottery has increased its sales volume every year since 1972 when the first tickets went on sale in the commonwealth. Weekly, instant, and so called daily "numbers game," grossed $196.9 million in the 12 months ending Nov. 30, 1080.

The electronic machines will be tied in with the lottery commission's centralized computer and be tamper-proof, according to agency spokesman David Ellis.

Lottery officials decline to speculate what the odds of winning might be or how much additional revenue they expect to raise.

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