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N.C. lottery commission hires former New Mexico chief to run game

Nov 17, 2005, 4:31 pm

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North Carolina Lottery

Will new director force dreaded computerized drawings on North Carolina?

North Carolina has put the future of its new lottery in the hands of a former head of the New Mexico Lottery who has helped launch lotteries in three other states.

The state lottery commission selected Tom Shaheen, the immediate past president of the North American lottery association, at a meeting Thursday.

South Carolina's two top lottery officials — executive director Ernie Passailaigue and chief operating officer Tony Cooper — made the short list of candidates to head the N.C. lottery. Both have been with the S.C. Education Lottery since its inception in 2001. Passailaigue said Tuesday he had withdrawn from consideration.

Shaheen will be paid a base salary of $235,000 and get a $50,000 bonus if he can get the lottery started within four months of beginning his new job. He is expected to begin work within 30 days.

Shaheen, 52, resigned Tuesday after five years in New Mexico. He helped start lotteries in Florida, Texas and Georgia.

In New Mexico, he streamlined the staff to save more than $1 million a year. He also renegotiated a contract with the lottery company, GTECH Holdings of Rhode Island, and saved $12 million over three years, said former lottery chairwoman Claydean Claiborne.

Shaheen also championed computerized drawings in the state of New Mexico, a move largely unpopular with players, who prefer traditional lottery ball machine drawings.  Now North Carolina residents will have to wait and wonder if Shaheen has the same fate waiting for them.

He joins a North Carolina lottery that has struggled early with ethics concerns. Attorney General Roy Cooper is investigating potential lobbying law violations by a former lottery commissioner and a former aide to House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, who was hired by lottery company Scientific Games Corp. Scientific Games and one of its vice presidents are also being investigated.

Former colleagues say that Shaheen has earned a reputation for high integrity and frugality.

In New Mexico, he streamlined the staff to save more than $1 million a year. He also renegotiated a contract with a lottery company to save $12 million over three years, Claiborne said.

The advertising campaign for the New Mexico lottery accentuated the education aspect of the lottery — providing money for college scholarships for New Mexico students — and eschewed ads that portrayed the lottery as a get-rich-quick scheme.

Jim Woodward, a North Carolina lottery commissioner and former University of North Carolina-Charlotte chancellor, said Wednesday that Shaheen clearly stood out from the half-dozen finalists.

"He was exceptional," Woodward said. "His experience is very pertinent to where we are in putting the lottery in place in North Carolina. His reputation was just spotless, and he had been widely recognized by his peers as one of the most respected lottery administrators in America."

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