A powerful state legislator suggested Monday that the Colorado Lottery should face more frequent audits to prdvent repeats of abuses uncovered over the past two months.
In addition, the Cabinet member who oversees the Lottery said she expects that by June 30 a complete reform of that agency will be in place.
"We're taking the lottery back to zero ... and looking at everything," state Department of Revenue chief M. Michael Cooke told the legislature's Joint Budget Committee. "We're committed to working very quickly."
The suggestion by committee chairman Rep. Brad Young, a Republican, for comprehensive audits every two or three years - instead of every five - and the pledge of speedy reforms by Cooke come in the wake of deep- seated problems that publicly emerged after Lottery Director Mark Zamarripa abruptly quit in November.
Zamarripa announced his resignation just hours before he was to meet with Cooke to talk about expenses he incurred on a trip to New Orleans.
In the view of Department of Revenue officials, it was impossible to tell what the state was to pay Zamarripa for and what was provided by the national lottery organization sponsoring his trip.
Zamarripa never met with Cooke and has not responded to recent requests for comment.
Soon after Zamarripa's departure, a state audit unveiled a series of problems in the Lottery, ranging from abuse of company cellphones to questionable use of the Lottery's vehicle fleet to employee bonuses that one legislator described as a "gravy train."
And last month, investigators from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation seized 23 computers in key offices of the Colorado Lottery as part of an investigation by the Arapahoe County district attorney to see if vendors improperly influenced Lottery management by wooing them with gifts.
Cooke was before legislators Monday as part of the annual budget process hammering out how much money the Revenue Department, and the Lottery, will get next year.
As part of her testimony, Cooke outlined fixes that she already has put in place at the Lottery, an agency that generates more than $400 million every year from the sales of scratch-off, Lotto and Powerball tickets.
For example, Cooke has already tightened the rules on cellphone use and the use of state cars.
Reforms to come include revamping how bonuses are doled out and putting a microscope on how contracts between the Lottery and its vendors are crafted.
For example, the audit highlighted Lottery spending that included $250,000 annually on consumer research as part of its contract with the company that runs the Lottery's scratch-off ticket operation.
Cooke said that she and new Lottery Director Margaret M. "Peggy" Gordon are examining deals such as that one, since the more money that vendors receive is less cash that can go to the Lottery's goal of raising money for parks, recreation and open space.