The Tennessee Legislature's leading lottery advocate predicted Thursday that Tennessee will be selling lottery tickets by Jan. 27 and said the startup date could have been Jan. 1.
Sen. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said the state lottery board had dramatically underestimated the skill and speed of lottery CEO Rebecca Paul when it set Feb. 10 as the target startup date. He described Paul as "a workaholic working 24/7 with the best lottery team ever assembled."
Feb. 10 is the first deadline Paul, former Georgia lottery CEO, must meet to receive bonuses that could raise her salary from $350,000 to $752,500 per year.
Cohen's comments came at a news conference on the first anniversary of voter approval of a lottery in Tennessee. He was lead sponsor of legislation authorizing the referendum and chaired a campaign committee prompting passage.
The senator said the lottery board, in hindsight, made a mistake "with the best of intentions" by spending time in exploring the prospects of teaming with Georgia in a two-state lottery partnership. If the board had instead moved directly toward hiring Paul and launching a Tennessee solo lottery, he said, tickets could have been sold by Jan. 1.
He said the only serious problem that has emerged is the failure to educate students and parents across the state on lottery-sponsored scholarships becoming available next fall for high school graduates with a 'B' average.
"I think the governor just needs to get a match and light it under somebody's posterior," Cohen said.
He faulted the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp., which will process the lottery scholarships, as well as the state Board of Education, the University of Tennessee system and the state Board of Regents system.