A Tennessee retailer with a series of complaints about the corporation managing Tennessee's lottery has been asked to appear Wednesday in Nashville and testify before a state oversight committee.
Denny Johnson, owner of Bestway Grocery in downtown Ridgely, said his decision to sell lottery tickets at his store cost him dearly in terms of lost dollars and said he was convinced some packets of tickets shipped to him were activated without his consent, a charge the lottery corporation has denied.
At the request of state representative Phillip Pinion, Johnson was given a slot at Wednesday's meeting of the state's Fiscal Review Committee, which will be taking a broad look at the corporation's financial records.
"There have been other merchants in my area who have complained about the lottery but none with problems to the degree Denny had, and I've known him for many years and believe he was telling me the truth," Pinion said.
Pinion explained that while he believed Johnson's particular case was likely an isolated incident that would be resolved amicably in the near future, there were larger issues at stake in the meeting Wednesday.
"I think it is ridiculous the kind of dollars the big dogs are making," Pinion said. He was particularly suspicious of the bonuses being paid and wanted to know more about how the marketing system worked, where the money was going and, specifically, how much was being paid.
Judy Richardson, administrative assistant with the Fiscal Review Committee, said, "We have him (Johnson) on the agenda but that is a small part of it. We are looking at a lot of compensation and administrative issues regarding the lottery corporation including bonuses, vacation pay and sick leave and compensation packages. We have also asked them for information on all consultants that have been paid since the beginning of the lottery, what they paid them and what they got from them, and also a record of legal fees. We want a list of all the lottery employees with their titles, salaries and the bonuses they have received since the beginning of the lottery."
The Fiscal Review Committee has made similar audits of other state agencies and departments. This is the first time the oversight group has looked into the administration of the lottery.
"The lottery is new and we have never looked at it before," Richardson said. "We pretty much do this with all of state government."
The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Legislative Plaza building.
Johnson said that he hoped to accomplish two goals during the Wednesday meeting. "First, I want to reconcile any differences there might be between my records of lottery-ticket sales and the corporation's figures. Second, I hope that what I say can help other retailers so they don't have to go through what I went through."
Johnson said he had all of his lottery control forms plus a detailed daily record of sales from the store that he kept. He intended to carry all of this information to Nashville for the committee meeting.
"I am still pro-lottery," Johnson said. "If the financial issues could be resolved, I would like to sell tickets again, but not under the current set of policies. It is a losing proposition for small retailers like me."
From his experience, Johnson felt it would be better for the lottery corporation to name one or two outlets in any town where tickets could be sold instead of having "one on every corner vying for a limited customer base."