Nov 19, 2005, 9:20 am
Texas lottery commissioners moved one step closer Friday to returning the Lotto Texas game to its original format by signing off on a plan to bounce the so-called bonus ball from the format that decides how the multimillion-dollar jackpots are won.
Meanwhile, the two sitting commissioners who oversee lottery operations deferred a decision on who will be hired to run the agency, which generates $1 billion a year for the state. But both offered high praise for former state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, a Houston Republican who submitted an eleventh-hour application for the $115,000-a-year post. The next lottery director could be named next month.
Under the proposal that will be published in the Texas Register and on the lottery's Web site for public review and comment, Lotto Texas will be structured as it was before the bonus ball was introduced just over two years ago.
To win the jackpot, which starts at $4 million and increases each time no one hits it, players must match six numbers from a field of 54 to the ones picked during the twice-weekly drawings. The odds against winning would drop from one in 48 million under the bonus ball configuration to one in 26 million.
Regular players, lottery products manager Robert Tirloni said, "absolutely did not ... like the bonus ball."
Commission Chairman C. Thomas Clowe said the change is needed to help stem the 30-percent drop in ticket sales since the bonus ball was introduced.
"If I had known we were going to lose 30 percent of our player base, I never would have voted to make that change," he said. "To just give away 30 percent of our market was a mistake."
Clowe also he was not ruling out restoring Lotto Texas to the six-out-of-50 configuration it had when the game debuted in Texas in 1992. Tirloni and other lottery executives warned that such a move might severely undercut the state's profit margin.
After the lottery commission meeting, Clowe said he encouraged Heflin to apply for the director's post because of the former lawmaker's 22 years of experience in state government, particularly his two-year stint as chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. Since his defeat in the 2004 elections, Heflin has been running his management consultant business full time.
"I think he's very well-qualified," Clowe said. "He's very knowledgeable about lottery operations."
Clowe stopped short of endorsing Heflin, as did Commissioner Jim Cox, who described the applicant as "a very promising candidate." The lottery commission is a three-member panel, although one slot is presently vacant.
The Texas Department of Public Safety will do a thorough background check before any vote is taken on Heflin's application. A government watchdog group expressed reservations about Heflin, pointing out that he accepted $30,000 in campaign donations from organizations seeking to legalize slot machines in the state.