Arkansas hires lottery director | Arkansas Blog

Friday, June 5, 2009

Arkansas hires lottery director

Posted By on Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 2:42 PM

Arkansas has a lottery director. He's Ernest Passailaigue Jr. (pictured), who's executive director of the South Carolina lottery. He'll be paid $324,000 a year, an increase of almost $100,000 from his current $226,000 pay in South Carolina.

He was also authorized, at his request, to begin discussions with multistate lotteries, Powerball and Mega Millions. (Nice timing: South Dakota rancher claimed a $232 million Powerball jackpot today.)

The vote was unainmous. It came after more than two hours of executive session. If you're shocked, the interested parties standing by at the UALR Law School meeting were not. Most believed the second emergency meeting of the commission in as many days and a growing impatience among legislators suggested action was near.

"I think we got a winner," said Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who led the drive to put the successful lottery initiative on the ballot.

Read on for more reporting from Gerard Matthews including a video of the commission's vote and over-the-phone remarks from Passailaigue himself.

Chairman Ray Thornton said yesterday the commission didn't have enough applications. Passailaigue did not apply. He was recruited by Commissioner Joe White of Conway.

Passailaigue spoke to the Arkansas commission at a recent two-day retreat at Petit Jean about setting up the lottery. A former South Carolina legislator (Democratic) who once ran unsuccessfully for governor, he led his state's startup in 2001 and 2002. He didn't have lottery experience then, though he'd studied it in working on legislation to set up the game, but he has plenty now.

During his presentation at Petit Jean, he said his first hire in South Carolina was a human relations director to deal with a flood of job applicants. He warned of political influence in the process and legislators attempting to help friends.

Passailaigue is a CPA by profession who once owned a minor league baseball team in Charleston Here's what Lottery Insider said about him when he took charge in South Carolina.

He's not in Little Rock today, but was on the phone with the commission, which held a news conference after the decision.

He asked commissioners for approval to begin discussions immediately with Powerball and Mega Millions, two multistate games that spur a lot of player interest with giant jackpots. Commissioners approved. He's chairman of the Powerball Group and vice chairman of the multistate lottery assocation.

He also suggested a name change: To the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery and the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Commission. This will emphsize where the proceeds of the gambling will go.

The South Carolina Education Lottery produced $266 million for K-12 and higher education in 2007-08 from a multitude of scratchoff and drawing games, plus the multi-state sales, according to lottery literature. That is from a state with 4.5 million people, about 55 percent more than Arkansas.

His official start date is July 1, but he said he wants to begin work before then.

Arkansas will bring him a jump in pay of almost $100,000 over South Carolina salary, but Thornton said the higher figure was in part to compensate for some expensive benefits he'd lose.

Thornton reported that Passalaigue liked Arkansas and the people he'd met, including legislators, and wanted to get another good lottery off the ground before he retired. He made a five-year commitment. He may bring some South Carolina staff members with him.

Thornton said the quick hire should put the lottery ahead of schedule and he predicted lottery sales by Thanksgiving.

Joe White of Conway contacted Passailaigue about his potential interest, Commissioner Derrick Smith said. He'd been asked previously about his interest by a journalist and said he was not interested. But commissioners heard subsequently that he might be interested. Thornton said Passailaigue suggested the pay level and the commission agreed.  Thornton said the pick salary figure had not been run by legislators first.

Nonetheless, House Speaker Robbie Wills, who sponsored lottery legislation, announced the decision with seconds on his Twitter feed and followed it up quickly with a post to his blog, including backup links such as this to an interview with Passailaigue.

Lt. Gov. Halter said he'd met the new man in 2007 and was happy about the choice because of his experience, leadership in national trade groups and the respect he commands among colleagues.

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