The Wyoming Lottery Board has a chance to do something few government bodies do: It can set an early standard of excellence for transparency.
Now the question is, will those on the board do the right thing and keep it and its decisions open to the public?
So far the signs are good. The lotto board was quick to disclose the $165,000 salary of Jon Clontz, the Wyoming Lottery’s new CEO. That’s a good start.
The lotto board’s stance on transparency moving forward is important for several reasons. First, as Tennessee Lottery CEO Rebecca Hargrove told the board in July, “this is a zero-mistake business.”
Second, gaming is a big money business: The lottery board estimates it’ll take in $20 million from ticket sales in the first year of the state’s games of chance. Third, regardless of truth, it’s not a stretch for some to associate lotteries and gambling with vice and back-room business deals.
The lotto board is considered a quasi-governmental organization — it doesn’t accept state money, but was created by the state Legislature. Yet the lotto board shouldn’t be quasi-sure that it wants its business to be open to public inspection.
The quasi-governmental organization designation isn’t just a name game. The board gains benefits from this designation. For example, it receives a federal tax exemption on the interest it’ll pay on a $1 million bank loan for its newly created Wyoming Lottery Corp. The exemption will reduce the final cost of the loan by a third.
But here’s the thing with quasi-governmental organizations. Wyoming has several, including the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority and the Wyoming Pipeline Authority. The leaders of these organizations don’t use their organizations’ status as a way to shield their activities from the public.
The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, in particular, has a sterling record of opening its board meetings to the public, and in fact turning them into forums on energy issues critical to the state. They’re always well-attended.
The lotto board’s quasi-governmental status should be a reason to do the right thing, not an excuse to the wrong thing.
Yet in the early days of the Wyoming Lottery Board, some of its members seemed hesitant to take the same approach.
The board first met July 8, days after it was authorized to start work under the recent law that created the board. The board doesn’t have a lot of time. Its members are expected to put state gaming in place sometime next year.
Gaming vendors will be knocking at the state’s door for the right to be a part of the state’s gaming scene. That’s a good thing. But how much should they get paid? How much will they get paid?
Then there was the CEO situation. The question was up for debate: How much should the person in that position get paid?
It was a sticky question for the lotto board, which was first bandying around a salary of between $100,000 and $175,000. Hargrove, the Tennessee lottery CEO, said no deal: “Getting someone to pick up and leave everything and come here can cost between $225,000 and $700,000.”
That has seemed too rich for the board’s taste. More recently, the board said it would gun for a yearly salary somewhere less than $250,000. As we know now, the board agreed to a $165,000 for Clontz.
The lottery board was quick and transparent in releasing information on its choice of a CEO and exactly how much Clontz will get paid. It’s a good start, and an important one if the board is to begin its work with a reputation for transparency.