Michael Wickline, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Capitol ace, throughly elaborated on the naming of Eric Hagler as the new director of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery.
When Bishop Woosley was eased out the door, it was to get Governor Hutchinson’s man in the job. Hagler has a legal history in Benton County, the governor’s former stomping grounds. His daddy, a Little Rock ob/gyn, is also a friend of Larry Walther, head of the state department that includes the lottery.
If Walther did interview several other candidates, Hagler started with advantages from friendship, if not from his resume. He has no lottery experience. Managerially, his most recent experience was what appears to have been as a one-man law firm in California. He wanted to move home.
But I’m burying the lede, as they say in the news trade.
It wasn’t the naming of a crony as head of a Hutchinson agency. That’s SOP.
The news at the bottom of Wickline’s account came in Larry Walther’s comments about expansion of the lottery to different gambling options, beginning with keno, which would allow electronic instant gambling at every crossroads in Arkansas.
Asked if lottery officials have ruled those options in or out, Walther said, “That’s a tough one because that’s political.
“There is a lot of pushback from the existing industry outside of the lottery for us not to do keno because they feel like it infringes on their business,” he said.
“If we can’t forge an agreement with the industry, it will be hard for us to do keno. That’s just the reality of life as far as I am concerned.”
Asked about the possibility of the lottery developing a digital channel as an iLottery offering, Walther said, “We would like to do that.
“Technology is going that way. The casinos are using it,” he said. “We will venture into it, but only with the approval of the governor, and the Legislature will probably want some say in it as well as the industry.”
So keno still looks like a long shot.
But a “digital channel”? This means buying lottery tickets online with credit cards. Six states now allow it, with various limits. (PS: Yes, there are ways for people in Arkansas to buy lottery tickets online from other states. A push to do this in Arkansas would undoubtedly include an argument to keep that spending at home.)
Walther clearly wants to expand state-sponsored gambling by digital means. He acknowledges the casinos probably won’t like that either.
But note this quote: “Only with the approval of the governor, and the legislature will probably want some say in it….”
That’s what I call an understatement, particularly given that the new leader of the Senate will be Jimmy Hickey, who has long intervened in lottery affairs and was elected Senate president on the strength of pushback against the governor’s overreach in dictating to the legislature. Hickey — and many others — will have something to say about lottery expansion.
PS: Hickey, to his discredit, is the godfather of legislation that turned the scholarship lottery into even more of an entitlement program for the middle-class. The qualification standards were toughened at his urging to the point that scholarship money goes even more disproportionately to higher income, white students.
It would be nice if the new lottery director could do something about THAT, but that’s not part of his portfolio. His job is to cut expenses and to get poor people to give up more of their meager incomes chasing dreams of riches against overwhelming house odds.