LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Lottery Commission voted Wednesday to join the multi-state Powerball games, tickets for which may go on sale in the state as soon as this year, the state's lottery director said.
The commission accepted an invitation from the Multi-State Lottery Association and the Powerball Group to join Powerball, which is played in 30 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
State Lottery Director Ernie Passailaigue said previously he expected Arkansas to start selling Powerball tickets in early 2010, but he told the commission Wednesday it may be possible to start this year, before tickets for daily numbers games go on sale.
The Lottery Commission has set Oct. 29 as the target date to begin selling instant-win, scratch-off tickets and Dec. 14 as the target date to begin selling tickets for daily numbers games. The proposals that vendors submit will determine whether Arkansans can start playing Powerball this year or next year, Passailaigue said.
Passailaigue said he believes Powerball is a better fit for Arkansas than the multi-state Mega Millions games, which are played in large states such as California and New York.
Multi-state lottery games exist to offer large jackpots, Passailaigue said. Powerball's minimum jackpot is $20 million.
"Arkansas, with a population of 2.8 million people, could not (by itself) sustain a jackpot game where the minimum jackpot is $20 million," Passailaigue said.
Sporting a tie with a brightly-colored lottery-ball design, Passailaigue presented a report to the commission Wednesday on his first official day on the job, though he said he said he has really been working for the lottery since he was hired June 5.
Passailaigue addressed controversy over his previous statements the lottery may include "monitor games" such as Texas hold 'em and keno. Some, including Gov. Mike Beebe, have questioned whether voters intended to approve games like keno when they voted in November to approve a constitutional amendment creating a state-run lottery to fund college scholarships.
If the lottery does offer monitor games like keno, the games will simply be another way to play the lottery, Passailaigue said Wednesday.
"It's just a draw game," he said.
Some have expressed concern installing monitor games would turn Arkansas businesses into something akin to casinos. Passailaigue said other states have found monitor games generate relatively small profit compared to games such as Powerball.
Passailaigue also said, contrary to one report he saw, the lottery would not offer Internet games.
"Internet gambling is a federal crime, and I like my freedom," he said. "I want to be an Arkansan. I want to be out there enjoying the beauty of Arkansas. I don't want to be in the federal penitentiary."
Also Wednesday, the commission voted to authorize Passailaigue to request approval from a legislative oversight committee to create 88 staff positions and present a budget request. The lottery will need about $5 million to cover expenses until the lottery begins generating revenue through ticket sales, he said.
The Legislature voted this year to loan the lottery $6 million to cover start-up, with the money to be repaid with lottery profit.
According to estimates Passailaigue presented to the commission, annual salaries would range from about $26,800 for an administrative support position to Passailaigue's pay of $324,000. The total annual payroll would be an estimated $5.1 million, but not all of the positions would have to be filled immediately, he said.
After the director, the highest-paid people would be two vice presidents who would each receive $250,000 a year, pending legislative approval. Passailaigue said two of his staff members in South Carolina, where he served as lottery director from 2001 until taking the Arkansas job, have expressed interest in the positions.
Passailaigue said those people — David Barden, director of marketing and product development for South Carolina's lottery, and Ernestine Middleton, that lottery's director of internal operations and human resources — have the necessary experience to get Arkansas' lottery started on schedule.
Passailaigue also said Barden is a lawyer, so hiring him would eliminate the need to hire a staff lawyer.
Passailaigue predicted paying the vice presidents $250,000 would cause "heartburn" and would lead to news reports "three people from South Carolina are hauling off a big load of cash at the expense of Arkansans," but he said any controversy would be forgotten when lottery tickets go on sale.
"On Oct. 29, I predict ... all that will go away," he said. "At least it went away in South Carolina, it went away in Tennessee, it went away in Georgia and it went away every place else that has set up a lottery."
Other than the director, only one person has been hired so far. Passailaigue said he has hired Julie Baldridge of Little Rock at an annual salary of $105,000 to serve as executive assistant, public relations director and liaison to the Legislature and the Lottery Commission.
Baldridge has served previously as an aide to Ray Thornton, the Lottery Commission's chairman, and to Senate President Pro Tem Bob Johnson, D-Bigelow.