Lottery dysfunction must end [Courant Editorial]

July 28, 2019

Editorial as it appeared in The Hartford Courant 

Something is profoundly wrong with the culture at the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, and it’s time for state officials to make some badly needed changes.

The quasi-public agency has been dogged by controversy over the years — from million-dollar mistakes to exorbitant golden handshakes to attempts to hide a probe into a cheating scandal. But the recent disclosure that the CLC’s vice president went to the FBI instead of state officials with concerns about the then-chairman of the lottery board puts everything over the top.

For too long, leadership at the lottery has acted as if it exists in its own bubble, unaccountable to the public and entitled to its own riches. It’s a pattern of behavior that has no place in state government.

The Courant’s Jon Lender was in the room earlier this month when CLC Vice President Chelsea Turner testified, during a hearing on an ex-lottery official’s whistleblower’s complaint, that she had had concerns in 2014 about Frank Farricker, the former board chairman. Instead of doing the right thing and telling state officials, though, she went to a friend in the FBI. Somehow they concocted a scheme to secretly record Mr. Farricker by hiding a listening device inside the eyeglass case of Anne Noble, who was the CEO of the lottery at the time.

That was an inexcusable breach of ethics. Ms. Turner is now on administrative leave and could soon be fired. It wouldn’t be the worst thing for the CLC.

A recent survey of lottery employees — initiated by Greg Smith, the current CEO and president who inherited this unholy mess — was not encouraging. Morale is, at best, questionable. Employees described the lottery culture as “sacred, secretive, unworthy”; “retaliatory, one-sided, disappointing”; “secretive, cronyism, unprofessional” and “North Korea-like.”

One wonders how the results would have changed if the news about the FBI involvement had broken before the survey was administered.

It’s also fair to wonder what else is going on that we don’t know about — and whether officials would have acted on Ms. Turner’s testimony had the press not been in the room to hear it.

The FBI overreach seems to have finally prompted legislators and other state officials to realize that it’s high time to get involved. Not a minute too late.

The state Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees the lottery, told The Courant it “will be initiating an investigation into statements” that Ms. Turner made during the whistleblower hearing.

State Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford and co-chair of the legislative committee that oversees gaming, said, “The two most important attributes of any lottery are transparency and integrity, both of which the lottery continues to fall short of.” He told Mr. Lender that the FBI involvement makes him consider “holding additional hearings” into CLC operations.

Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven told The Courant, “Whether they fire Chelsea [Turner] or not is their decision, but the president [Smith] needs to say, ‘We have to change this whole organization.’ It’s poisonous. You have to watch everything, including empty eyeglass cases. What kind of work environment is that? It’s pretty scary stuff.”

It is. Toxic leadership has a way of filtering through any organization, and this one clearly needs changes.

Ms. Turner’s mistake in calling the FBI lays bare the key problem at lottery headquarters: The CLC leadership has tended to believe that it is fully isolated from state government apparatus, and ultimately from the people of Connecticut, whom they serve.