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Taking a breath-analysis test at the end of the evening is usually a sure sign that you’re about to be called on the carpet for making a bad decision or two. At the Shortstop Lounge on Madison, though, it could be kind of fun.

A coin-operated device that claims to accurately tell users whether they’ve had too much to drink was installed at the bar in mid December. Depending on who’s asked, the machine’s function is either purely for entertainment purposes or provides another layer of protection to keep drunk drivers off the road.

“Definitely,” Robert Maroney said of the device’s purpose as a public service. “It tells you exactly what to do.”

Maroney is semi-retired from the gaming business and is a distributor of Alcohol Alert, as this particular device is branded. The face of the machine has step-by-step instructions on how to use it, and features a digital display proclaiming the user’s blood-alcohol level. Depending on the level of alcohol detected, Maroney’s device offers instructions, including a warning not to drive.

At $1 per use, Maroney is splitting the revenues with Shortstop owner Marty Sorice and is pitching the machine to bar owners not as a gimmick but as a tool. In the first five days the machine was at Sorice’s bar, $44 was pumped into it.

“It’s not a game,” Maroney said. “It’s not a toy.”

The device is capped so that it registers an alcohol content of no more than .30, according to Maroney. This is intended to deter people from turning their consumption into a sport, he said.

The machine, however, is slathered with disclaimers to clear manufacturers and drinking establishments of any liability that might be associated with its use. Despite a running friendship with Maroney, Sorice said there is absolutely nothing reliable about the machine and any claims to the contrary are simply part of a sales pitch.

“It may be an approximation of reality, but it isn’t reality,” Sorice said. “The machine is not accurate in any way, shape or form.”

According to the Forest Park Police Department, the alcohol detection instruments used at the station are sensitive machines. When a suspect is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, an officer must monitor the suspect for 20 minutes to make sure that cigarette smoke and other contaminants that might interfere with the test aren’t in the person’s mouth.

The use of a coin-operated device can’t be monitored as carefully, and could potentially produce skewed results, local authorities said.

Deputy Police Chief Tom Aftanas and Lt. Stephen Weiler said they were completely unfamiliar with breath-analysis equipment outside of what’s used in the department, and had never heard of such a device being installed in a bar. Weiler questioned whether there might be legal ramifications if a patron ignores the results of a self-administered breath-test, gets behind the wheel and causes an accident.

Asked whether the device at Shortstop might encourage patrons to drink to the point of excess, the officers said people will manage to do so regardless.