LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The embattled director of the Arkansas Lottery resigned Monday after a series of public missteps that drew criticism from the highest reaches of state government and overshadowed the college scholarships financed by the program he helped establish.
Ernie Passailaigue’s resignation was announced Monday after a closed session of the Arkansas Lottery Commission. Passailaigue did not have a contract and will not receive a buyout. His resignation is effective Oct. 7.
Julie Baldridge, the lottery’s spokeswoman and legislative relations director, will serve as interim director, commission chairwoman Dianne Lamberth said. Baldridge will not be a candidate for the permanent job.
Passailaigue spoke during the commission’s public meeting and gave no signal that he was resigning. He did not attend the closed session or appear after the commission emerged to announce that he was leaving. He did not offer a reason for his departure in his resignation letter.
“It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to serve the commission as the director since the startup of the United States’ newest lottery,” he wrote. “Thank you and the commission for all the courtesies that have been extended to me over the last two and a quarter years.”
Earlier Monday, the Commission unexpectedly went into executive session to discuss personnel performance. Commission chairwoman Dianne Lamberth would not say who was being discussed behind closed doors.
Afterward, Lamberth said the commission did not ask for Passailaigue’s resignation.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with the IRS,” Lamberth said. “I don’t think it had anything to do with any of that. I think it was time for Ernie to say, ‘I’ve done the best job I can do in this time frame,’ and we just say we appreciate it.”
Passailaigue, a former director of South Carolina’s lottery, was hired by the commission in June 2009 to help Arkansas set up its games. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2008 allowing the state to sell lottery tickets to raise money for college scholarships.
He’s faced criticism repeatedly in his management of the games, most recently over the revelation that the lottery owed nearly $100,000 to the Internal Revenue Service in penalties and interest for late deposits. The lottery has appealed to the IRS to waive the penalties.
Gov. Mike Beebe, who appoints three members of the nine-member lottery commission, called the mistake “inexcusable” but stopped short then of calling for Passailaigue’s ouster.
Beebe was expected to address Passailaigue’s resignation when he spoke with reporters later Monday.
Passailaigue has already faced scrutiny this year over the lottery’s profits coming in almost $11 million short of projections for the fiscal year that ended June 30.
He also came under fire last year for a legislative audit legislative audit that criticized the games’ management practices. Among other findings, auditors said the lottery didn’t seek approval for some vendor contracts and kept incomplete travel records for Passailaigue and other top officials.
And he’s been criticized for raises given to lottery employees as well as his own salary, which exceeds $300,000.
Passailaigue had survived other attempts by members of the commission to fire him. After the furor over the legislative audit, Passailaigue said he didn’t plan to resign but also would not commit to keeping the job for the five years he originally he said he wanted to stay.