Ohio Lottery players can be walking encyclopedias when it comes to the varieties of games, drawing dates, favorite numbers and the nearest Lottery retailers to them during the day.
But when it comes to picking out the people behind the organization, many couldn’t pick them out of a Powerball line on a Wednesday or Saturday night.
Kathleen Burke is changing all of that. She started her job as the executive director of the Ohio Lottery Commission last summer. She finds that talking to and meeting with winners, players and retail outlets across the state really helps her stay connected to her constituency.
“It’s great to make those connections,” the attorney and former journalist said. “Talking to retailers, customers and employees every day really helps the approach to my job.”
“It’s been a lot of fun and, of course, a lot of hard work,” Burke added. “It is a complete change from what I was doing previously. The great thing is that the people here are enthusiastic, experienced and very much expert at what they are doing.
“There’s never a dull moment, and always something new going on all the time – not to mention new issues to think about.”
Burke’s pedigree is nothing short of impressive. She joined the Ohio Lottery Commission after serving as a partner in the Jones Day law firm in Cleveland, where she had been a corporate litigator since the early 1970s. The first woman president of the Ohio State Bar Association, Burke successfully spearheaded an effort to establish judicial campaign contribution limits.
As executive director, Burke oversees the state agency, which administers a multitude of lottery game products through a network of licensed retailers across the Buckeye State. Burke said her legal background has served her well during her tenure with the Lottery, which has annual sales reaching $2.4 billion.
“I find my background translates pretty well in a lot of what we do,” she offered. “All of our games have rules associated with them; what we do in terms of our rule drafting is informed that way.”
She adds that understanding contract law and the “finer points of how contracts are crafted” has helped a great deal as well. “There’s also the interpreting of statutes and rules,” Burke said. “Being a lawyer in this role has been more helpful than most people might imagine.”
“When I arrived, we were under a direction from the governor’s office to start video lottery terminal program in a very short period of time. And the amount of public interest in that was high, with the news media really interested every step of the way,” she said. “That was a good way to find out quickly that what the Lottery does is of great interest to people of the state.”
Also of great interest to Ohioans was the state’s entrance into Powerball. On Burke’s watch, the Ohio Lottery Commission coupled with several other U.S. lottery commissions to join the multistate jackpot lottery. Ohio Lottery officially joined the Powerball game in April.
“Within the lottery industry, the move for states to start selling both the Powerball and Mega Millions games simultaneously had been (in) early stage planning for a couple of years,” Burke said. “Obviously, there has been a lot of interest in that move as well, and gearing up for it all was a lot of fun for us.”
She adds that knowledge sharing between the state lottery commissions has been really helpful in bringing her up to speed in her new role quickly. “Because individual states aren’t really competing with each other, there’s a lot of sharing of information,” she explained.
Director Burke is still relatively new to the lottery industry, but she has “jumped in with both feet,” as Ohio Lottery Communications Director Marie Kilbane said. “We’ve had a good fiscal year and expect to have a very strong end to the year, with sales and profit transfers up.”
In addition to shepherding all of Ohio Lottery’s games, Burke led the Ohio Lottery’s Office to the first arrest in the new statewide Retailer Compliance Inspection Program – a Columbus store clerk has been accused of claiming winning lottery tickets as his own.
The retail program is intended to protect Lottery customers by “ensuring winning tickets are not wrongfully claimed by retailers or their employees” without payment to the customers, Burke said.
With almost 9,000 retailers to manage and maintain background checks on, Burke takes pride in the organization’s efforts to protect the customers. “We want to make sure that players are treated with fairness and honesty,” she said. “All Ohio Lottery retailers undergo background checks before they are licensed, and the Retailer Compliance Inspection Program provides a deterrent to dishonesty and safeguards our customers.”
If it sounds like Burke has a lot going on, she does. “We’re always trying to re-evaluate what we do with our games to see if we’re always doing the right thing. We’re always looking new things to try, including our new Winner’s Campaign and marketing microsite.”
Like everything else that Burke has a hand in, it all comes down to people. The Ohio Lottery’s new marketing campaign allows winners to share their stories and content on the site. Burke herself claims to be a big fan.
“We already have a lot of great stories from our winners,” she said. “And it’s really fun to see.”