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Wyoming Lottery refuses to release individual salaries

May 18, 2015, 7:13 am

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Wyoming Lottery

The Wyoming Lottery Corp. wants to keep its salaries and benefits secret from the public, with officials saying disclosure will hurt the new organization from a competitive standpoint.

The Casper Star-Tribune sent a records request to the lottery, asking for compensation of executives and board members. CEO Jon Clontz denied the request May 8.

The lottery and newspaper disagree in the interpretation of the 2013 law that created the organization.

Lottery officials argue it is a private company, since its board obtained a bank loan for start-up costs and did not receive any public money. The newspaper contends it is quasi-public because the 2013 law states the governor appoints the board and the lottery must submit quarterly reports to the governor, Wyoming Legislature and the Wyoming Department of Audit.

WyoLotto began selling tickets Aug. 24. After the bank loan is paid off, net proceeds are to be distributed to cities, towns and counties and to an education fund.

The Star-Tribune sent the lottery four requests for information in late April, ranging from meeting minutes to a study about lottery customers. The lottery provided meeting minutes and some information from the study. It denied the compensation request. The newspaper is awaiting information on the fourth request.

Wyoming media attorney Bruce Moats, who has represented the Star-Tribune in the past, said the issue over whether the lottery gets to determine which records are public begs a larger question of who is minding the shop. The public and the media should be allowed to see information, he said.

"It's the idea of saying, 'OK, trust us to tell you what information you really need to have,'" Moats said. "I think that the foundation of public access laws is the government doesn't get to determine what the public needs to know."

Other states

Most state lotteries are government agencies, said Patrick Pierce, political science professor at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, and author of "Gambling Politics: State Government and the Business of Betting."

Pierce reviewed Wyoming's law and said it is modeled after the lottery structure in Georgia.

"The reason you don't want to do what Georgia and Wyoming are doing is that you're worrying about scandal," he said, referring to someone cheating a lottery game to make money, which he said happens today. "You have a much better chance of monitoring those kinds of problems if the commission is within the government."

Lotteries in the states that surround Wyoming are state agencies. The Star-Tribune was able to obtain annual salaries for each top administrator. They range from $81,147 earned by South Dakota Lottery Director Norm Lingle to $136,656 earned by Colorado Lottery Director Laura Solano.

In 2013, when the lottery board hired Clontz, it said it would pay him $165,000 a year. It is unclear whether he has received any raises or bonuses.

On Wednesday, Clontz emailed the Star-Tribune and said Wyoming Lottery salaries and wages were $537,000 between July 31 to March 31, the three quarters when the lottery was operating with a full staff.

"It is typical for private companies to publish total salaries and wages costs but not individual wages," he said.

The 2013 law that created the lottery describes the organization as a "body politic and corporate operating as an instrumentality of the state of Wyoming."

Clontz said the Wyoming Lottery is "set up as a private lottery and modeled after Tennessee, Georgia, New Jersey, Illinois, and I believe there may be others," he said.

There are some differences among the lotteries, but Clontz said the Wyoming Lottery is most closely modeled after those in Georgia and Tennessee. The Tennessee Lottery CEO earns almost $700,000 yearly. Shortly after the Legislature approved the lottery, the Wyoming lottery board contracted the Tennessee CEO in to assist them with early planning and organization.

The Georgia Lottery CEO makes about $450,000 per year, he said.

Clontz said he and his staff members are working to help the newspaper while "still maintaining our private, 'free of political influence' obligation as the Lottery law was written and requires."

Moats, the media attorney, disagreed with the characterization.

"One person's politics is another person's interest," he said. "Calling something political seems to imply that it's improper. Certainly, they need to do their job for what is best for the lottery. But that doesn't mean the public doesn't have any role."

Moats questioned why the Wyoming Lottery can't release more salary information if it had released some in 2013.

The law

Wyoming Lottery and the Casper Star-Tribune clash on the meaning of a section of the 2013 lottery law that describes information that the lottery can keep as confidential.

The newspaper reads a portion of that section as stating compensation is public: "Confidential information includes trade secrets, security measures, systems or procedures, security reports, information concerning bids or other contractual data, the disclosure of which would impair the efforts of the corporation to contract for goods or services on favorable terms, employee personnel information unrelated to compensation, duties, qualifications or responsibilities and information obtained pursuant to investigations which is otherwise confidential."

Cheyenne attorney Matthew D. Kaufman, who represents the lottery, wrote in an email Clontz shared with the Star-Tribune that the newspaper is wrong because the section also contains the sentence: "The corporation is specifically authorized to determine which information relating to the operation of the lottery is confidential."

Compensation is listed in the law as information that isn't assumed to be confidential, but lottery officials determined it was, he wrote.

"In short, I don't think the (Star-Tribune) is reading the entire statute in context, and is disregarding the most authoritative language in the statutory section she cites," he wrote. "The language is pretty clear that the Lottery can determine information (like salaries) to be confidential."

Moats, the media attorney, said lottery officials need to provide a better explanation of the competitive disadvantage of disclosing compensation, when other states -- including those Clontz said Wyoming is modeled after -- disclose the information.

"I would be interested in the explanation of how that would really harm the lottery's competitive ability," he said.

The public has a constitutional right to access information, Moats said. Wyoming Supreme Court has said a blanket exclusion of all records without exceptions is unconstitutional, he said.

Moats does not believe the lottery is a completely private company.

"They're a hybrid here," he said. "They're a publically owned private company."

Lawmakers' intent

Lawmakers who sponsored the 2013 law have different opinions over whether compensation should be confidential.

The bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Dave Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said if the lottery believes keeping compensation confidential is in the best interest of the state, then it is.

"We set it up as a quasi-governmental corporation that we don't micromanage," he said.

Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, said he doesn't remember the Legislature talking specifically about compensation being public information. He said he would talk to lottery officials about it.

"I don't see why it could be private," he said. "If it needs to be clarified in the next Legislature, I'd certainly entertain doing it."

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, talked to lottery officials and told the Star-Tribune on Thursday he was satisfied with the lottery providing the newspaper salaries as a whole, without them differentiated by employee.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, did not support the lottery bill in 2013. Last week, he sent lottery officials his own request for salaries.

"I don't see why they would have to be different than any other state entity," he said. "There's no reason."

Gov. Matt Mead signed the lottery bill.

"The bottom line is as far as he's concerned, the Legislature set up WyoLotto as private with private funding," said Seth Waggener, Mead's spokesman. "They don't receive state money, so he believes it's appropriate to keep those confidential."

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