A top leader at a gambling operations vendor was hired Tuesday to become the North Carolina Education Lottery's next executive director.
The lottery commission voted unanimously to hire Mark Michalko, a vice president and managing director for International Game Technology's operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The commission's search for a new lottery chief began soon after Alice Garland, the executive director since late 2010, announced last fall she would retire at the end of March.
"We had an impressive field of candidates, but the cream rises to the top," Commissioner Jody Tyson said after the panel returned from a closed session and voted to hiring Michalko in an open meeting. "And I have full confidence that we have made the best decision."
Michalko was the California lottery's founding executive director and worked for the lottery in Ohio. Michalko also has a North Carolina connection — he's been living in Chapel Hill while working out of IGT's London office. IGT is also the North Carolina lottery's operating system contractor.
"I've been in the gaming business my entire professional career," he said in a brief acceptance speech. "I'm very excited about the opportunity here."
Michalko will be the third executive director for the lottery, which began selling tickets 12 years ago this month
Annual sales steadily increased under Garland's tenure to $2.4 billion during the fiscal year ending last June, while the share earmarked for public education has grown to $622 million. Updated internal lottery projections foresee sales reaching almost $2.6 billion for the current year and $650 million in net earnings — $34 million higher than originally budgeted, according to documents for Tuesday's meeting.
"This is a well-run organization," Michalko said. "I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to try to continue that growth."
Still, the lottery faces challenges with retailers and sales for its latest game, called Carolina Keno. Legislators also have been pushing back against overtures to expand online sales.
Michalko will make $212,000 annually, slightly below the salary made by Garland, who initially joined the lottery in late 2005 to lead its legislative and communications office. Garland's voice cracked with emotion Tuesday as she said being the executive director has been the perfect job for her. She had worked previously in state and federal government and in employee and trade organizations.
"I'm so proud of what we have accomplished as a team," Garland said.