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Illinois Lottery hires Bernie Mac

Mar 20, 2006, 7:26 am

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Illinois Lottery

Add comedian Bernie Mac to the list of people who've hit the lottery jackpot.

Mac is receiving $500,000 for about 2-1/2 days of work endorsing a new state lottery game in what lottery officials are calling a "phenomenal deal" because of the success of his television show.

But Mac's six-figure paycheck is drawing criticism from state lawmakers who would like to see the money spent elsewhere.

For nearly $23,000 an hour, Mac will lend his name and likeness for two TV ads, two radio ads and the lottery Web site for one year. This is Mac's second contract with the state — in 2004, the lottery paid him $420,000 for a similar deal.

"It certainly makes me pause when I hear those kind of numbers for the little amount of work he's doing," said state Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock). "It seems to me we could probably be getting similar results for substantially less advertising."

Lottery officials disagree. Mac's presence in the 2004 ads helped increase instant ticket sales about $62.5 million from the previous year, lottery spokesman Courtney Hill said. In turn, the lottery was able to contribute $30 million more to the school fund.

Lottery officials also selected Mac to promote the new Pick n' Play game because surveys have shown he rates high among various adult demographic groups.

Jim Belushi got $200,000

A Chicago native, Mac is "fun to be around" and widely recognized for his lead role in Fox TV's "The Bernie Mac Show," Hill said. Attempts to reach Mac's production company were unsuccessful.

"We got a really phenomenal, phenomenal deal," Hill said. "A comparable celebrity would have cost two to three times more."

Actor George Wendt, wrestler Hulk Hogan and TV personality Jenny McCarthy have previously endorsed lottery games, though officials could not disclose their contract information because records were inaccessible. In 2003, actor Jim Belushi was paid $200,000 for six hours of work taping a TV ad.

"Giving money to rich Hollywood actors, I don't think that's a good way to spend taxpayer money," said state Rep. Bob Biggins (R-Elmhurst). "We should be replenishing our pension systems."

The lottery spends about $22 million a year on advertising and public relations. Its main marketing agency is Chicago-based R.J. Dale Advertising & Public Relations, which came under fire last year for inadequate financial recordkeeping.

R.J. Dale will be producing the upcoming Mac ads. The group also handled the 2004 campaign.

"That's been one of the most successful campaigns we've had in the history of lottery," Hill said

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