The following editorial, “The lottery’s latest: Big Ernie objects to an audit,” appeared in today’s edition (6/29/2010) of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I applaud the newspaper’s editorial staff for writing and publishing an honest, hard-hitting piece on Arkansas’ state-run lottery. – Jerry
LITTLE ROCK — MOST businesses might expect an independent auditor to deliver an independent audit. Not the Arkansas Lottery (Big Ernie Passailaigue, Head Honcho). Its executives have just reacted with sky-high umbrage to an audit’s findings.
There was no need for such an overreaction, just as there is no call for so many of Big Ernie’s huffy comments. A simple Thank You and a resolve to do better would have been quite sufficient and avoided a front-page snit between state employees.
The auditor is Michael Hyde, a longtime state employee who’s served as chief auditor for the highway department (2003-09) and worked for the Legislative Audit Division (1998-2003) before that. He went to work for the state’s lottery commission last September. But his sensible suggestion that the lottery adopt some written rules, specifically for planning and designing its scratch-off tickets, moved the lottery’s managers to throw a record public hissy, along with an insult or two in Mr. Hyde’s direction.
For example, the auditor is told his “erroneous conclusions in this portion of the audit [calling for written policies] are possibly attributable to . . . lack of lottery experience or rudimentary knowledge of gaming.” (Gaming is the euphemism du jour for gambling.)
Having doubted the auditor’s knowledge, experience and just about everything but his ancestry, Big Ernie and lavishly paid company then proceed to break an arm patting themselves on the back for parting so many fools from their money since they got the lottery under way in Arkansas.
To all of which Mr. Hyde, professional that he is, replied that the lottery’s start-up was “a noteworthy achievement. However, it does not mitigate responsibility the internal auditor has to the Arkansas Lottery Commission and the citizens of the state of Arkansas to provide an objective, independent review of the lottery’s activities and make recommendations to enhance internal controls.”
Politely and professionally said, Mr. Hyde.
The lottery’s bigs should have welcomed instead of disdained the auditor’s findings. But combine big salaries with control of a lot of other people’s money, and you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for producing arrogant memos.
Instead of simply thanking Mr. Hydeand moving to tighten their controls, the lottery’s execs acted not like public servants but self-proclaimed public savants who have no need of an auditor’s suggestions.
What’s with Ernie Passailaigue? The man has an unswerving penchant for taking offense-even at an audit that should have been welcomed as helpful. The sheer gratuitousness of it. That’s what impresses most of all, and not favorably. Mr. Passailaigue’s anger is as self-revealing as it is self-destructive.
The moral of this story: Just as rudeness is the weak’s substitute for strength, so arrogance is the bureaucrat’s substitute for courtesy.
WE THE PEOPLE asked for this kind of thing when we gave in to the lure of easy money and decided to set up a state lottery complete with all its unsavory aspects, which now include a huffy resistance to accountability.
If the state’s voters had wanted to provide more college scholarships, surely there were better ways than soaking poor suckers. Like maybe raising a tax or fee-adding a coupla-three dollars to the cost of a driver’s license, for example-and raising just as many millions. But that would have been too simple, straightforward and honest. It wouldn’t have involved the lure of easy money, which is never so easy after all. So instead the state set up this arrogant bureaucracy that takes exception to the simplest audit.
You have to wonder why, if the scholarship money the lottery provides is all that plentiful, the state’s colleges and universities are still raising tuition rates. And why the University of Arkansas’ campus at Fayetteville has just rescinded the raises promised faculty. This is the usual way state lotteries turn out. They may be advertised as some kind of panacea, but they have a way of turning out to be one more (and expensive) problem.
The upshot: We the People are now stuck with a way for the state’s poor, ignorant and gullible to pay for scholarships that will be handed out largely to children of the middle class. How’s that for good sense and simple justice?
Conclusion: A self-respecting state would shut down this racket and send this silver-haired sapsucker in a seersucker suit back to South Carolina-bow tie, arrogance and all. Especially the arrogance.
Jerry is the founder and president of Family Council. He began Family Council in 1989 after a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to prevent the use of public funds for abortions. He and his wife reside in Little Rock. They have four sons.