North Carolina's lottery, not even 60 days old and nowhere near selling tickets, already looks dirty in the minds of the public, Lottery Commission Chairman Charles Sanders said Wednesday.
"There is a doubt in the public's mind," said Sanders, former CEO of pharmaceutical giant Glaxo, "as to whether this is an honest and fair process."
Controversies that have arisen around lottery company Scientific Games and its connections to both a lottery commissioner and a top aide to House Speaker Jim Black have created the perception that the company played an inappropriate role in writing the state lottery law, Sanders said after the commission's second meeting.
At the same meeting, the commission approved a strict code of ethics, a potential first step in rebuilding the image of the state numbers game, which depends on its integrity for survival.
"It's going to take a while to gain the public confidence about the lottery," Sanders said.
State officials are investigating the work of Meredith Norris, former top political aide to House Speaker Jim Black. She worked as a consultant for Scientific Games but was not registered as a lobbyist for the company. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is trying to determine whether Norris was lobbying for the company. Norris lined up a dinner last summer for Black and a company executive and attempted to arrange a yacht excursion for legislators and company officials.
Kevin Geddings, a lottery commission member from Charlotte who helped start the S.C. lottery, has a long friendship with an executive at Scientific Games, one of the two major lottery companies. Geddings, who also once did business with the executive, has said he won't vote on the selection of a lottery operator.
The commission, down from nine to eight members after Tuesday's resignation by former Charlotte City Councilman Malachi Greene, voted unanimously to approve a code of ethics that:
Commissioners also heard from the head of the major national lottery association and from Rebecca Paul, director of the Tennessee Lottery, who has started lotteries there and in Georgia and Florida. Both speakers outlined important tasks for the commission, the first of which is hiring an executive director. Sanders hopes to have five finalists identified before the commission's Nov. 9 meeting.
Paul left commissioners each a goody bag that included a Tennessee Lottery visor and golf balls, which commissioners ironically wondered if they could accept.