Jan. 30, 2003 – Two senators, one a freshman and the other the Legislature's senior member, have written to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull pleading with him to send nominations immediately to fill the five vacant seats on the V.I. Lottery Commission.
The only current members of the seven-seat commission are Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull and Office of Management and Budget director Ira Mills, who both serve by virtue of their government positions.
The commission has been unable to function since 1997 because it cannot attain a quorum. Sens. Lorraine Berry and Raymond "Usie" Richards pointed out separately to the governor that because there is no commission, major decisions are being made by one individual, the V.I. Lottery executive director, Austin Andrews.
The Lottery Commission has oversight territorywide for the regular V.I. Lottery ticket sales and the operations of Caribbean Lottery Services, including the popular Powerball game added in November. It also has responsibility for newly legalized video lottery operations in the St. Thomas-St. John district. The Casino Control Commission is in charge of casino gaming, which is allowed only in the St. Croix district, and the Virgin Islands' authorized but not yet operative Internet gambling.
Richards wrote the governor: "In the absence of the commission, all oversight powers normally granted to seven people have been unduly assigned to one."
Neither senator questioned Andrews' abilities. Berry said that he "has proven well able to assume responsibilities of the full board, as authorized by the Legislature specifically during the time of the prolonged vacancies." But, she added, "some decisions in recent months were meant to be shouldered by a full board according to the law established by the commission."
The Lottery Commission comprises the two members who sit by virtue of their public offices — with the Finance commissioner as chair and the OMB director having the option of being represented by a designee — and five others. Two of those five must be licensed lottery dealers, one from each district. The remaining three must consist of one resident each from St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. Members serve four-year terms. The five positions have been vacant since September 1997 or earlier.
Richards underscored the purpose of the commission makeup: "The express purpose of the law is to provide participation by both public and private sectors." He said the absence of a full commission is "improper and unnecessary."
He also told the governor that he believes the legislation empowering the executive director to act in the absence of a commission "promotes opportunities for abuse, as was encountered in the previous administration." The reference, he told the Source, was to Andrews' predecessor, Alex Dizon, who held the position from 1995 to 1999. Dizon pleaded guilty in District Court in 2001 to bilking the V.I. government out of $82,000 and was sentenced last year to 20 months in prison.
Richards urged the governor to act quickly to submit nominations for the five seats, noting that the public's impression of the gaming industry in the Virgin Islands is "critical in our efforts to continue to expand our abilities to secure more [gaming] revenues."
Berry, vice president of the 25th Legislature, said: "Upon submission of appointees' names, the Legislature is prepared to act with all due speed on their confirmation."
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