It’s a good bet that Westporters know the new chair of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s board of directors.
The other day, Governor Ned Lamont named Rob Simmelkjaer to fill the vacant position.
A former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Democratic Town Committee, he was 1st selectman candidate Melissa Kane’s running mate 3 years ago.
He’s now founder and CEO of Persona Media, the interview and conversation-focused social media startup.
His face is also familiar to many beyond Westport. Simmelkjaer was an on-air contributor for NBC Sports, where he also served as vice president of NBC Sports Ventures. He previously worked at ESPN and ABC News.
So how does that prepare the Dartmouth College and Harvard University Law School graduate to head up the Connecticut Lottery, which since it began in 1972 has contributed more than $10 billion to the state’s general fund?
Simmelkjaer says that at NBC, he learned about the impact of sports betting — and the effect of all legal gaming on state economies. He spent time with CT Lottery CEO Greg Smith, and learned about its opportunities and challenges.
Lotteries are well established in every segment of American society, the new chair says.
Many Westporters buy tickets, especially when the jackpot is high. Simmelkjaer did too. (Iin his new position, he’s prohibited from winning.)
“I’ve always seen it as a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment,” he says. In the 1960s and ’70s his grandmother played the underground numbers in Harlem for $5 a week. When lotteries became legal, his father played the big jackpots.
Of course, Simmelkjaer says, with any form of gaming there is a potential for a small percentage of people to become addicted. Any expansion — such as online lottery sales, online casino games or sports betting — must provide help for anyone in trouble.
Lamont said his appointee’s “sharp eye and keen management style will provide the agency with a greatly-needed refresh.”
That’s a reference to the fact that although the lottery sold $1.3 billion worth of tickets last year, and contributed $370 million to the general fund, the agency has been rocked by a retailer fraud scandal, and a mistake-filled New Year’s Day promotion.
As chair — an unpaid position — Simmelkjaer will help set strategies and priorities. He’s a conduit between the governor and legislators.
“Responsible gaming can play an important role in the fiscal recovery of Connecticut from the current crisis,” the new chair says. “I look forward to working with the CEO and other key stakeholders to ensure that we grow the state’s gaming revenue, while ensuring the highest standards of compliance and oversight.”