As the Iowa Lottery celebrates it’s 25th year, a member of the board that governs the state-run enterprise reminisced this week about the rocky start for the idea. Elaine Baxter was a Democratic state representative from Burlington when the lottery concept came to a vote in the legislature.
Baxter says people in the border cities were more used to going across the border into Illinois to buy lottery tickets. “So there was a strong constituency in my legislative district of people who wanted to have a lottery, but the farther away from the river towns you got, the harder it was to convince people that buying a lottery was going to be a good thing,” Baxter says.
Baxter later became Iowa Secretary of State, and is now on the Iowa Lottery Board. She says the lottery did carry a stigma when it was being debated 25 years ago. “A lot of legislators just didn’t feel comfortable voting for a lottery, and they needed assurances that it was going to be run above board and something that they wouldn’t be ashamed of,” Baxter says. She says she still remembers those concerns now as a board member. Baxter says she believed a lottery would work in the state.
Baxter says she had confidence based on the state history that Iowans wouldn’t tolerate something that wasn’t honest. “We have clean government here, we have honest elections, we have just a tradition of people expecting that their public officials and their government is going to be run honestly and above board.”
Then Governor Terry Branstad vetoed the lottery bill twice before signing it on April 18th 1985. Baxter says Branstad then moved to be sure the lottery was properly run. “After Governor Branstad finally decided he would support a lottery and signed the bill, he appointed Ed Stanek as the first director…and the governor told me he picked Ed Stanek because he felt he was the most upstanding individual he could find to be in charge and he had total confidence in Ed,” Baxter says.
Stanek remained the C.E.O. of the Iowa Lottery until retiring in October of 2007.