Thornton Selected To Lead Lottery Commission

Ray Thornton was chosen to serve as interim chair of Arkansas' new lottery commission on Tuesday.

In its first meeting, the commission began the process that will result in a working state lottery, possibly by the end of the calendar year. Proceeds from the lottery, aproved by Arkansas voters last fall, will fund college scholarships. The commission is independent and autonomous, but subject to a legislative oversight committee, which met for the first time Monday.

Thornton was unanimously selected to lead the group. He is a former U.S. congressman from Arkansas' Second and Fourth Districts, a former state Supreme Court justice, and former president of the UA and Arkansas State University systems.

Dianne Lamberth of Blytheville was chosen to serve as vice chair. Lamberth is the secretary of the Lyon College Board of Trustees. Other board members are George Hammons of Pine Bluff, Ben Pickard of Beebe, Patty Shipp of Morrilton, Derrick Smith of Little Rock, Joe White of Conway, Mike Malone of Fayetteville and Dr. Susan Ward-Jones of Marion.

A rough agenda was outlined for the next meeting, open to the public, set for Tuesday, May 12, at 1 p.m. at the UA system campus in Little Rock where Tuesday's meeting was held. Agenda items include an upcoming day-long session, the selection of a secretary, the hiring of advisory counsel, and the creation of four working committees -- personnel, vendors, retailers and finance. The commission also agreed to invite representatives of the South Carolina lottery, upon which the Arkansas version has largely been modeled, to attend a future meeting.

Members of a personnel committee would be charged with making hiring recommendations to the full body. The commission is charged with hiring an executive director and an auditor. Once hired, the director would finish out the hiring of lottery-commission staff.

For the time being, the commission will be supported by staff from the Bureau of Legislative Research and counseled by members of the state Attorney General's staff. By law, the commission has until Sept. 1 to utilize BLR staff.   

"We want to move as expeditiously as possible," Thornton said. "But we want to get it right."

Thornton noted that South Carolina had a lottery in place four months after enabling legislation was approved, and that Arkansas would continue to use that state as a model.

Commissioners heard from Gov. Mike Beebe, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and House Speaker Robbie Wills, each of whom pledged their support. Halter urged commissioners to act with due diligence but as quickly as possible, noting that each day Arkansas doesn't have a lottery, it loses a potential $1 million in lottery proceeds and $250,000 in scholarship money.