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Representative of Governor Meets With Lottery Petitioner

The Petition

Denise Deckard’s parents purchased a Fun ‘s lottery ticket from the Texas Lottery Commission.  They believed they had won a substantial cash prize based on the clear language of the ticket’s instructions.  However, when they attempted to cash the ticket they were informed that they were not winners.

Denise felt this was fundamentally unfair.  She started a petition on Change.org addressed to the Governor of Texas, the Lieutenant Governor, and to the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.  Her Petition is entitled “Restore Honesty and Fairness to the Texas Lottery”.  Nearly 10,000 lottery players signed the Petition and called for their elected officials to restore honesty and fairness to the Texas lottery.

The Meeting

On June 22, 2016, Denise met with Jared Staples, a representative of Governor Greg Abbott.  She presented the Petition to him on behalf of the nearly 10,000 lottery players who had signed it.   Denise asked that the Petition be communicated to the Governor.

On June 30th, Denise received the following response from the Governor’s representative which she shared with us:

From: Jared.Staples@gov.texas.gov
To: ddeck1@msn.com
Subject: RE: Update Deckards’s Meeting June 22
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2016 23:11:42 +0000
Ms. Deckard,

I appreciate you making the trip to Austin last week to deliver the petition and discuss concerns of consumer protection for lottery players.

Please know that this Office takes seriously any allegation of a state entity conducting its business in a dishonest and/or unfair manner. We expect the appointed board and commission members of these entities to ensure the highest standards of integrity within the agency they oversee.

To your point of deceptive tickets being sold, it is my understanding that issue is under pending litigation and therefore we cannot speak to that specifically; however, to your broader request for action on consumer protection—which we discussed at length during your visit—I asked that you identify some specific items or reforms that I can share with our Lottery Commissioners to look into. I am glad to share with the Commissioners the general information that you have already provided to this Office, but more specific issues and recommendations would be helpful to make sure these concerns are fully vetted and addressed.

Additionally, I encourage you and others to attend the Texas Lottery Commission’s open meetings, which occur at least six times a year. At those meetings there is an opportunity for anyone to present formal public comment to the Lottery Commissioners. At our meeting, I gave you information on how to get notifications when these meetings get scheduled. For your convenience, I am providing a link to that information here: http://www.sos.state.tx.us/texreg/subinfo.shtml.

Again, I thank you for reaching out. I will be glad to receive any additional concerns or reforms you identify and share those with our Lottery Commissioners and any other appropriate party.

Sincerely,

Jared Staples
Policy Advisor
Texas Governor Greg Abbott
(512) 463-1778

Did the Governor Get the Message?

Denise followed up her meeting with a Public Records Request in which she asked for copies of any communications between Mr. Staples and Governor Abbott.  In essence, she was checking to see whether Mr. Staples provided the Governor with a copy of the petition she had presented to him.  Denise received the following response:

From: publicrecords@gov.texas.gov
To: ddeck1@msn.com
Subject: RE: OOG PIR # 16-238
Date: Wed, 10 Aug 2016 16:16:45 +0000
August 10, 2016

Denice Deckard
Ddeck1@msn.com
VIA EMAIL ONLY

RE: OOG PIR # 16-238

Ms. Deckard:

This letter is in response to your public information request to the Office of the Governor (“OOG”), received by the OOG on August 2, 2016. A copy of your request follows this email.

The OOG has reviewed its files and has no information responsive to your request. If you have any questions, please contact me at publicrecords@gov.texas.gov.

Sincerely,

Jessica Vu
Assistant General Counsel
Office of Governor Greg Abbott

 

Denise is justifiably concerned that Governor Abbott never received the Petition she delivered to Mr. Staples on behalf of the 10,000 or so lottery players.

Denise also filed a Public Information Request to see if there were any communications between Mr. Staples and the Texas Lottery Commission regarding the petition.  Here is the response she received:

From: OpenRecords@lottery.state.tx.us
To: ddeck1@msn.com
Subject: Public Information Request
Date: Tue, 9 Aug 2016 20:58:30 +0000
Ms. Deckard:
This email is in response to your Public Information Request received July 26, 2016.

You requested:
“I would like to receive copies of any/all emails, faxes, letters or phone records between any/all TLC staff members and Jared Staples (Policy Advisor Texas Governor Greg Abbott) office since June 1, 2016 through todays date.”

The responsive documents contain information the agency believes to be excepted from disclosure under the Public Information Act. Please be advised that we are currently seeking an Attorney General Open Records Decision for the portions of the requested information which the Commission has asserted are confidential and excepted from disclosure.

Enclosed is a copy of the request sent to the Open Records Division of the Office of the Attorney General. We will keep you apprised of any developments.

Katelind Powers
Open Records Coordinator
Texas Lottery Commission
PO Box 16630
Austin, TX 78701-6630
512-344-5420
openrecords@lottery.state.tx.us

In other words, there appear to be responsive documents showing that Mr, Staples communicated with the Texas Lottery Commission about the Petition but the Commission is refusing to provide Denise with those communications unless the Attorney General tells the Commission that it must turn the documents over.

What can Governor Abbott Do?

First, we don’t know if Governor Abbott ever received a copy of the Petition.  The response to the Public Information Request suggests that no documents or emails were sent to the Governor.  There’s always the possibility that Mr. Staples met with the Governor in person.  We just don’t know.

Second, Mr. Staples is probably correct.  The Governor can’t be expected to publicly comment on an existing lawsuit against GTECH related to the Fun 5’s scandal.  However, he can comment on changes that might need to be made to restore honesty and fairness to the Texas Lottery which is what almost 10,000 voters are asking him to do.

Third, it is unfair to expect Governor Abbott to change the organization or structure of the Texas Lottery Commission.  As Governor, he does not have that power.  The Texas Lottery Commission is a creature of the Texas Legislature.  That is a job for the Texas Senate and the Texas House of Representatives.

Governor Abbott does have the power to appoint or fire the five members of the Texas Lottery Commission who are obligated to look over the shoulder of  Gary Grief, the Texas Lottery’s Executive Director.  Governor Abbott replaced four of the five Commissioners who were in place at the time of the Fun 5’s scandal.  However, he did not replace J. Winston Krause, the Chairman of the Commission.  Mr. Krause was appointed by Governor Rick Perry and was the Chairman of the Commission when Mr. Grief made the decision to continue selling the misleading Fun 5’s tickets to the public.  Mr. Krause continues to be Chairman of the Commission.

It is probably a fair question to ask the Governor’s office whether it ever investigated what Chairman Krause knew and when did he know it.  Was Chairman Krause aware that over 100 lottery players per day were complaining that they felt they had been misled by the Fun 5’s tickets?  Did Chairman Krause know that the staff of the Lottery Commission prepared the paperwork to shut down the Fun 5’s game three days after sales began but the game was not shut down because Executive Director Gary Grief did not feel a need to shut it down?  Did Chairman Krause know that Gary Grief gave a deposition in which he testified that he was not concerned by the complaints being made by the lottery players?  If Chairman Krause did not know any of these facts, why wasn’t he aware?  Isn’t he the Chairman of the Commission that is supposed to be protecting the integrity of the Texas Lottery?  What was he doing to protect the lottery players from being misled?  All of these questions are fair game for the Governor’s office.

What can the Texas Legislature Do?

The Texas Senate is led by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and the Texas House of Representatives is led by Speaker of the House, Joe Strauss.  Both legislative bodies have the power to change the structure of the Texas Lottery Commission and to take steps to restore honesty and fairness to the Texas Lottery.  It is unknown whether the Lieutenant Governor or the Speaker have read Ms. Deckard’s Petition.  However, the nearly 10,000 lottery players who signed the Petition are entitled to a response from them once they do read it.

One thing the Legislature can do is to waive Sovereign Immunity to allow lottery players who were cheated by the Fun 5’s game to bring suit against the Texas Lottery Commission.  The Texas Lottery Commission has an absolute right, by contract, to demand that GTECH provide and pay for a defense of any claims arising out of what GTECH did in the Fun 5’s games.  In addition, GTECH is obligated to indemnify the Texas Lottery Commission from those claims.  In other words, if the Texas Senate and the Texas House vote to  allow lottery players to sue the Lottery Commission, it will cost the State of Texas and the Texas Lottery nothing.

Second, the Legislature can look into why the Texas Lottery Commission that is in charge of looking over the shoulder of the Executive Director did not do its job.

Third, the Legislature can look into putting in place an Ombudsman whose sole job it is to protect lottery players from misleading or deceptive lottery games.  The Lottery Commission has an Ombudsman to protect employees of the Commission.  In other words, if an employee of the Commission feels that he or she is being treated unfairly, they can complain to the Ombudsman whose job it is to protect that employee.  There is no such Ombudsman for players.   Why not?

What can you do?

These are links, to the websites for Governor Abbott >>link<<, Lieutenant Governor Patrick >>link<<, and Speaker Strauss >>link<<.  Their websites contain forms that allow you to send your thoughts and questions to your elected officials.  Each of you, as citizens of Texas, have a right to know what steps, if any, these public servants will take to restore honesty and fairness to the Texas Lottery.  Let them hear from you and demand that they tell you what concrete steps they intend to take to ensure that an incident like the Fun 5’s scandal will never take place again.

By Richard LaGarde

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