Follow the bouncing lotto ball 

New employees have struck it rich. Some players will eventually reap big jackpots. That doesn’t mean the Arkansas Lottery is a silver bullet for family finances or targeted beneficiaries, college students.

BIG PLANS: Ray Thornton (left), chairman of the Lottery Commission, and Passailaigue.
  • BIG PLANS: Ray Thornton (left), chairman of the Lottery Commission, and Passailaigue.

On June 5, Ernie Passailaigue was hired as the executive director of the Arkansas Lottery Commission at a salary of $324,000, a six-figure pay boost over his job as leader of South Carolina's lottery.

Since then Passailaigue's brief tenure as head of the newest state agency has played out prominently in newspapers, TV and the web. Others hired to work for the lottery have been awarded huge salaries as well with the promise that the pay will all be worth it once the scholarship money starts to roll in. With every new hire, comes a headline. Legislators are either defensive or out for political blood.

Passailaigue has said that every day that goes by without tickets being sold is $1 million in gross revenue lost, or about $250,000 in “profit” for college scholarships. He has said he is out to “set lottery history by starting up a lottery in the quickest amount of time in the history of lotteries.” If he meets his end-of-October starting date, he'll actually match the development period of a couple of recently established lotteries, including one in North Carolina where Passailaigue once sought to be hired at a salary much lower than Arkansas's.

But in all the haste, headlines and hubbub about what has become the biggest political story of the year, something sometimes gets overlooked. What will the lottery really mean for Arkansas's citizens and higher education system? Here, even big backers hedge their bets.

Though new to Arkansas, lotteries have had a long place in American history. They have existed in some form for over 200 years in the United States. The campuses of some of our finest universities — Harvard, Princeton and Yale, for example — were built using funds from lotteries. George Washington was known to buy tickets with some regularity and, in 1769, helped manage a lottery in which parcels of land and slaves were among the top prizes.

Since the beginning, lotteries have been met with opposition. The arguments are familiar — lotteries are built on greed, corruption and immorality. Those who choose to play have been deluded into doing so by unrealistic promises of riches and are exactly the ones that can least afford to throw money away.

There are heart-warming stories of those who hit it big, heart-breaking tales of those who won and lost it all again. Many a political career has been made by running on the promise of using lottery funds for schools, buildings and other government programs. It remains to be seen if Lt. Gov. Bill Halter's vision will pay off in the next governor's race, should he choose to run. Politically, his so-called Hope scholarship campaign was a success, winning overwhelming voter approval. But some confusion remains about what the lottery will look like, how much money it will create and whether it will make a difference in the numbers who attend and complete college. 



The Games

According to Passailaigue, the lottery commission will begin selling tickets on Oct. 29. The first games will be scratch-off tickets in four to seven varieties. For the most part, they'll be sold in convenience stores although the request for proposals sent to lottery vendors also asks for up to 100 ticket vending machines. These machines will resemble an ATM where customers can buy tickets and claim small rewards from the machines. (For large prizes, players will have to go to one of at least three redemption offices planned for different parts of the state.) Purchasing tickets would require a valid driver's license to verify a person's age.



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