Local News

Sanders Says Rush For N.C. Lottery Won't Sacrifice Integrity

Posted September 28, 2005 6:33 a.m. EDT

— As North Carolina debated whether to get into the lottery games, Charlie Sanders called it a bad idea.

"I was against it," said Sanders, a cardiologist and former CEO of Glaxo, Inc.

And so when Governor Mike Easley asked Sanders to chair North Carolina's Lottery Commission and to help set up the state's lottery, Sanders confessed that he was surprised.

But Sanders, who lost the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1996, agreed to take on the new challenge for the sake of funneling millions of lottery dollars into schools.

"The battle is over for the lottery. We now have a law," Sanders said.

He added that the N.C. lottery would be up and running as soon as possible, but the lottery commission would not sacrifice financial integrity in the process.

"We're going to move with all deliberate speed," Sanders told reporters nearly a week after being appointed by Easley to create the games.

"We don't want to do it in a fashion that (is) so hurried that we would make a mistake, which in order to save time would cost us a lot of money and other problems down the line," Sanders said.

Sanders said his passion for educational improvement helped him agree to take the post. Net revenues from the lottery will go toward public school initiatives and construction and college scholarships.

The state can recover from hurricanes and economic downturns, but "we can never withstand an uneducated population," he said. "So if I can do something to help in making the system of education better in North Carolina ... I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen."

As leader of the nine-member commission for the next year, Sanders' job will be to make sure the mechanisms are in place to begin a lottery.

Sanders didn't have a timetable Wednesday for the games to start. Others have said instant tickets could be sold starting next spring.

The commission will meet for the first time in the next seven to 10 days.

Its first big job will be to hire a director to run the day-to-day operations. The director likely will be among the highest-paid people within state government, and could lead the pack if financial incentives are met for getting the lottery started on time and meeting revenue goals.

The Tennessee Lottery's chief executive officer earned $700,000 in her first year on the job.

"I'm sure we'll get a lot of heat" about the pay, Sanders said. "So we might as well be upfront about that."

The lottery vendors who win contracts for creating scratch-off tickets and operating the online, or automated numbers games, also stand to receive tens of millions in revenues annually.

Sanders warned commission members to expect to be lobbied hard by potential vendors. The lottery law bars commission members from having direct financial connections to vendors. Sanders said he also would be open to creating an ethics code for all commission members to follow.

"I can't tell everybody else what to do," he said. "I just hope that they don't accept undue favors from interested parties."

Commission member Kevin Geddings once performed some research for a company, portions of which are now part of Scientific Games Corp., which could bid for a lottery contract. Sanders said he believes the commission can make vendor decisions without Geddings having too much influence.

Sanders said he would work hard to keep the financial mechanisms of the lottery out in the open for public inspection.

"The intent is to make sure things are handled in the most professional and transparent way possible," he said. "And I am going to do everything I can to make that happen."

Sanders added that he hopes to move quickly but carefully in setting up the billion-dollar endeavor from scratch.

"We're going to be on a fast learning curve," he said.