Feb. 28, 2003 The beleaguered and almost non-existent Lottery Commission took a small step toward reconstitution on Thursday when the Senate Rules Committee approved the nomination of Cedric Swan, who would bring its membership to three — still not enough for a quorum on the seven-seat panel.
The commission has not met since 1997, because it has had only two members, both of whom serve by virtue of other positions they hold Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull and Office of Management and Budget director Ira Mills.
Of the five other members, two 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 Rules Committee also approved the nomination of Fred Vialet Jr. to the Board of Land Use Appeals, another entity hurting for members. Although the nine-member board currently has six members, it frequently can't muster a quorum.
Sens. Lorraine Berry and Raymond "Usie" Richards have written Gov. Charles W. Turnbull urging him to rapidly fill the remaining vacancies on the Lottery Commission. In the absence of a functioning commission, Lottery executive director Austin Andrews is totally in charge of decision-making.
Richards wrote the governor: "In the absence of the commission, all oversight powers normally granted to seven people have been unduly assigned to one."
On Monday, the administration refused a request by the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, to have a legislative post audit staff member examine lottery financial records in connection with an audit the Finance Committee is conducting of V.I. Lottery operations. The agency has not been audited since 1997.
According to David Gale, executive director of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, all state lotteries "are required by their legislatures to report their finances." (See "V.I. Lottery unique in not disclosing finances".)
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.
Neither Berry not Richards questioned Andrews' abilities in their letters to the governor. 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."
On Thursday, Berry told the Rules Committee she was concerned that "Andrews has all the power in the V. I. Lottery." At a January hearing, Bernice Turnbull said she had not received any funds from Caribbean Lottery Services. "They are claiming in the media they have generated more than $300,000," Berry said.
Berry asking Swan how he would suggest that the Finance commissioner go about collecting the money due from CLS, he said: "They need to do whatever it takes, whatever is necessary to get the money."
Swan, a former Senate post audit division auditor, said the commission should "set policies for the executive director, and the director should implement them." Asked by Senate President David Jones about his views on the controversial video lottery operations, the subject of a Territorial Court case and an upcoming Senate hearing, Swan said he does not support VLT's. He also told Jones, a video lottery proponent, that he had not discussed his views with the administration before he was nominated to the Lottery Commission.
Sen. Roosevelt David raised the issue of a problem long plaguing the territory — the illegal sale locally of Puerto Rico lottery tickets, which David pegged at $41 million. Swan said he would work to legalize Puerto Rico lottery tickets in the Virgin Islands so the local lottery could get a cut of the revenues.
Vialet assured the senators that he would be an active member of the Board of Land Use Appeals. He said he has held public service positions before on the V.I. Real Estate Board, for one — and that this has never interfered with his law practice.
Both Vialet and Swan were unanimously approved by the committee. Their nominations must now go to the full Senate for final approval.
All Rules Committee members — Sens. Berry, Douglas Canton, David, Carlton Dowe, Louis Hill, Jones and Ronald Russell — attended the meeting along with Sen. Raymond "Usie" Richards, a non-member.
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