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Editorial: Is NM lottery jumping from frying pan to fire?

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It was unsettling when the New Mexico Lottery board suddenly fired its longtime CEO, disturbing when it refused to offer an explanation, and questionable when it opted to pay him another $165,000 annual salary and $5,700 in health care premiums.

So what are New Mexicans supposed to think about the board hiring a former Arkansas lotto official who left amid controversy and questions to run the show, if only on an interim basis?

David Barden will make $2,500 a week at the New Mexico Lottery, small potatoes compared to the $225,000 a year he made in Arkansas as that lottery’s vice president of gaming. But if his track record in Arkansas is an indicator, he brings a big sense of entitlement with him as evidenced by audit findings that revealed inadequately documented and improper travel expenses, questionable leave, late federal tax payments and a reimbursement to the state, as well as his unexplained resignation.

His defense? The lottery didn’t have necessary policies and procedures in place.

Meanwhile, New Mexico Lottery board chairman Dan Salzwedel says the board didn’t review the audit or speak to the auditors, and it isn’t concerned about Barden’s problems in Arkansas because the amounts of money involved were small.

Here’s a tip gamblers know: it’s always a small amount when it’s somebody else’s money. Of course this is the same chairman who isn’t concerned that players and beneficiaries have the information needed to instill confidence in the integrity of the lottery – information on the previous CEO’s departure and the current CEO’s qualifications.

The Lottery board has begun a nationwide search for a permanent CEO. It’s important that it put a bet on accountability and transparency.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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