End Illinois Lottery secrets and games of clout

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Illinois Lottery

Follow @csteditorialsAs soon as July 1, Gov. Rauner may hire a new private company to run the Illinois Lottery, which has promised big profits for years while failing to deliver.

Here’s what we’d like to see the governor demand as part of any new deal:

  • No more secrets with taxpayers’ money.
  • No more private advisory boards full of politically connected big names who know nothing about running a lottery.
  • No more foot-dragging by state bureaucrats unaccustomed to moving as decisively as executives in the private sector.

On the line is hundreds of millions of dollars in extra cash for a state facing massive financial problems.

EDITORIAL Follow @csteditorials

As reported in the Chicago Tribune on Monday, the current managers of the state lottery, Northstar Lottery Group, first won the big contract in 2010 by, in part, parading the company’s support from local political heavy-hitters. This was so Chicago.

Well-connected individuals such as former Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine, former Chicago Housing Authority Director Sharon Gist Gilliam and former Chicago School Board President Rufus Williams joined a Northstar advisory board and, in a couple of cases, pitched the company’s bid at a public hearing.

Northstar’s handpicked board effectively replaced a state-appointed board that, under Gov. Pat Quinn, quit meeting because Quinn had failed to add new members as others left.

This new arrangement might have been fine if Northstar’s board members knew anything about running a lottery, which they did not, or — worse — were not quietly on Northstar’s payroll. Board members, according to the Tribune, may have been paid $60,000 a year.

That was all taxpayer money, of course, though Northstar won’t even discuss the payments. And the board met only in private, unlike the state-appointed board, which met in public.

This has been an ongoing beef of ours — quasi-private groups funded largely by taxpayer money that nonetheless refuse to show their books. Choose Chicago, our local tourism agency, avoids public oversight in this way, as does the Illinois High School Association. They don’t think you deserve to know how they spend your money.

As part of the contract with the next manager of the Illinois Lottery, Gov. Rauner should demand that all relevant payments and revenues be made clear and public. The more government services are privatized — the latest effort being Rauner’s call to create and privatize two extra lanes of traffic on I-55 — the more important it is that the public be informed of how every dollar is spent.

The flip side is that government must give private operators sufficient room to manage. Northstar has failed to deliver and it has run out of excuses. But there was something to an early Northstar complaint that its best efforts were stymied by slowpoke state bureaucrats. Specifically, Northstar was frustrated by costly delays in approval of a new Lottery game based on the board game Monopoly.

Privatization may be the future. But based on what we’ve seen with the Illinois Lottery, it’s no sure bet.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com

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