Fewer than 24 hours from now the two entities left in the running for Illinois Lottery private management contract -- Northstar Lottery Group and Camelot Group -- will formally unveil their game plans for managing the Lottery at a public hearing. As that hearing approaches, the two groups look to be taking vastly different approaches to managing their respective efforts to win the Lottery private management contract.
Northstar, whose principals include Gtech, Scientific Games and Energy BBDO/Chicago, has pretty much stayed silent, letting others speculate about what it is trying to do in the bid process and how it is going about doing it. Still red flags were raised about the Northstar bid almost from the moment the group made the surprise announcement that it had been formed just hours before the deadline for submitting bids in late July. Since then, observers have repeatedly wondered how three vendors that already supply significant services to the Illinois Lottery, including technology, games and advertising, could turn around and then manage themselves. It's a question, so far, that Northstar has refused to address publicly. It could be forced to do so at tomorrow's public hearing.
Meanwhile, Camelot Group, believed to be the major underdog, appears to be mounting a last-minute push to gain some momentum -- even though observers question some of its tactics. Last Friday, Camelot Group issued a press release that laid out key components of its bid for the Lottery private management contract, including the formation of an Illinois Lottery Foundation that would be funded with 10 percent of Camelot's "profits" from the Illinois Lottery up to a maximum of $35 million. Those Foundation monies would be used to award grants to education programs and organizations statewide. The Camelot bid also apparently includes new ways to broaden the player base and launch the Lottery on the Internet.
Though some might argue Camelot's press release was an attempt to make its bid more transparent, the effort raised eyebrows among veteran lottery experts who maintain the bid process confidentiality rules forbid entities in the running for a state contract to go public in such a fashion with details about their bids.
That concern aside, Camelot Group also appeared to get a boost this morning from four local diversity and inclusion groups who held a joint press conference to announce their support for the the Camelot Group bid. Those groups include the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Women's Business Development Center, the Minority Supplier Business Development Center and the Chatham Business Association.
Even as the press conference was unfolding, sources were voicing suspicions Camelot had somehow managed to draw these groups into its camp and push them onto a public stage to proclaim their support for Camelot's bid on the eve of the public hearing. "Unbelievably blatant manipulation" was the way one source characterized today's press conference. Even more curiously, a public relations spokesman for the press conference told us he had been contracted by a third party to handle press for today's event, but when pressed, he refused to identify the third party.
We soon will know how Northstar and Camelot intend to make their case to the public. What we most likely won't know is which of the two groups gets recommended to Gov. Pat Quinn by executives handling the bid process for the Lottery. Quinn is supposed to select a private manager on or before Sept. 15.
The whole bid process that has unfolded over the past several weeks has come under intense scrutiny in the media in recent days, and the pressure on Quinn to make the right decision is great. Given all the questions that have been raised about the bid process and the remaining contenders, some observers are now saying Quinn might be smart to throw out everything and start again.
In a matter of days, we'll know what Quinn has decided.