Bet on politics: The new lottery director has scant expertise

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When the Corbett administration was promoting its now-abandoned idea of privatizing the Pennsylvania Lottery, it was on the basis of not only bringing private enterprise know-how to its operations but also special expertise in gambling.

As explained a year ago by Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser, in an email to lottery workers informing that a British firm, Camelot Global Services, would soon be signing a contract: “We’re confident that by combining one of the nation’s best lotteries with one of the best private-sector lottery industry experts in the world, we’ll end up with a win-win proposition to grow and protect lottery profits ... .”

Now it’s on to other things, such as filling the vacant position for the lottery’s new executive director. On Monday, Silvan B. Lutkewitte III, 50, of Hershey took up the position, replacing Todd Rucci, who left in November for another job. In picking Mr. Lutkewitte to head the lottery instead of conducting a national search, did the administration put the same premium on gambling expertise as it did in its privatization efforts?

Not exactly. Mr. Lutkewitte spent 20 years in the gas station and convenience store industry. He also served since 2009 on the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission, including as its chairman. More to the point perhaps, he has been a frequent contributor to political campaigns, primarily for Republicans, and has given small amounts to Gov. Tom Corbett.

On the matter of lottery expertise, Jay Pagni, a governor’s office spokesman, said that Mr. Lutkewitte’s experience with service stations and convenience stores was an advantage because they constitute 43 percent of the state’s lottery outlets. It must have been hard to say that with a straight face. No doubt Mr. Lutkewitte is an expert on candy bars, too.

Provided Mr. Lutkewitte is a reasonable administrator, his credentials may not make a difference. The lottery is already doing well, setting records for sales and profits in the fiscal year that ended last June 30. And the union that represents lottery workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is not concerned about his background.

But it is another example that fine talk about expertise has a way of bending for a new hire with political connections.

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