Clint Harris often uses the words "trauma year" to describe what happened at the Minnesota State Lottery in the months before he took over as executive director.
George Andersen, who had run the lottery since its inception, had committed suicide shortly after learning that a state audit would reveal an unflattering picture of his management.
Harris, at the time director of South Dakota's lottery, had close professional ties with Andersen and considered him a friend.
"When I came aboard, the staff had been through such turmoil," Harris said. "I think they saw me as a guy who knows the lottery business, who came from a small state with a small staff and would try to be as efficient as possible."
Even before Andersen's death, the lottery was in the process of downsizing after criticism of its high operating costs. The auditor's report cited more than 40 problems, most involving marketing and promotion.
Harris credits businessman Michael Veklich, who temporarily ran the operation before Harris was appointed, as doing much of the needed "heavy lifting." In a little over a year, the lottery reduced its staff from 198 to 144 employees and slashed operating expenses from $32 million to $22 million a year.
But Harris's South Dakota experience taught him how to run a leaner, meaner lottery operation. Despite being smaller administratively than the Minnesota lottery, the lottery in sparsely populated South Dakota actually raised $13 million a year more than in Minnesota during Harris's last full fiscal year on the job.
That's mainly because video slot machines are legal in South Dakota bars. That speaks to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's goal of opening a state-run casino - an area where Harris's experience could come in handy.
"I'm comfortable with it because of my experience in South Dakota," he said. "But I'm very polite in my opinions because my responsibility is to operate (a casino) efficiently and successfully if it becomes a reality."
Harris started working for the South Dakota lottery in 1993, and he moved up the ranks quickly, taking over in 2000.
But his background is more diverse than his career suggests. He spent most of his childhood in the Philippines, where his father, an Episcopal priest, was a missionary. He later attended public inner-city schools in New Jersey and mine-range schools in rural Pennsylvania after the family returned to the state.
In 1974, the family moved to Mobridge, S.D., where Harris's father administered Indian reservation ministries for the Episcopal Church. He would go on to marry his high school sweetheart, and spent his early career working for Kessler's, a large, independent grocery store in Abderdeen.
His experience in maximizing profits for the South Dakota lottery could serve him well in Minnesota, considering a stated goal of increasing lottery profits to $250 million by 2024 - more than twice the current annual profit.
"In the long run, we're going to need some other product besides scratch and online games to be able to reach that goal," he said.
Could that mean a casino?
"The subject was something George (Andersen) used to call me to talk about," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we're still talking about it next year."