The Iowa Lottery began selling tickets in Iowa 25 years ago, and a man who was working in the program and planning division was chosen to put the organization together. Ed Stanek was asked by then Governor Branstad to become the first leader of the lottery.
Stanek says they had to hire and train over 100 people, find and buy regional offices, buy vehicles, put in computer and communications systems for the lottery. “So it was quite a task, I remember,” Stanek said in an interview with Radio Iowa. Stanek had no background in the lottery business, but he did have a degree in physics.
“So I had a good feeling fort how games were supposed to run, although I’d never bought a ticket myself at that point,” Stanek explained. He said they put out bids to companies that made games and for the first several games they used games that had already been developed for other lotteries. Eventually he says they began designing all their own games. Stanek says it seemed like he was working 24-hours a day when things first got running in 1985.
Stanek says he spent a lot of time in the office, and in the evening he spent a lot of time on the phone, or coming back to the office. “So it was like being on call all time, because something invariably wouldn’t be going right,” Stanek said. But he says they were very organized and that paid off as the bill approving the lottery was approved in April and they had it up and running, “which at that time was the fastest lottery start up in U-S history.” Stanek still remembers the first day they sold tickets on August 22 at the Iowa State Fair.
“It was a very rainy day that day, and in spite of having an umbrella, I go thoroughly soaked,” Stanek said. They were giving away some free tickets before selling tickets and Stanek says he felt he should be there to greet people. As a result he says he ruined a wool suit and a new pair of shoes in the rain. Stanek says he had worked in other high-pressure positions in government before, so he never was concerned about things falling apart. He says the fast-paced nature of the lottery business never let him get complacent.
Stanek says, “We started out with a plan to introduce one scratch ticket game every three months or so, we figured that when we sold out that game, we’d introduce a new one. But that wasn’t maximizing income for us, what maximized income was having a variety of games available, different colored tickets, different themes, different ways to play, different prize structures, and that made all the difference in the world, and that meant that we were gonna have to be working our tails off forever.”
A lottery drawing was added to the scratch tickets a few months after things got up and running. Stanek says Iowa didn’t have the population to get the big jackpots that lottery drawings in other states had, so that led to the creation of a multi-state game and eventually the current Powerball game.
Stanek says the first multi-state lottery games was called “Lotto America” in 1987. Lotto America ran until 1992, when Stanek teamed up with another man to invent the Powerball game. Stanek says Iowans had been familiar with the lotteries that ran in other states and the advertising campaign they launch to introduced the lottery proved to be successful, and the lottery took off. Stanek retired from the Iowa Lottery in 2007 ending a 35-year-career in government.
Retirement allowed Stanek to do something he’d been banned from doing as a lottery official –buy tickets — so he occasionally tries his luck. “From time to time now, yeah I like to sample the new fare and see if it’s measuring up to the old stuff,” Stanek says. Stanek says he keeps busy now handling several family-related business issues, he also is on some corporate boards, and serves on the dean’s council at Iowa State University for the college of liberal arts and sciences.