By ANDREW DeMILLO

Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Lottery Commission voted Monday to begin its search for a new director in December, but the panel left unanswered how quickly it hoped to fill the vacancy left by former director Ernie Passailaigue.

The commission voted to begin advertising for the director job on Dec. 1 and to begin reviewing applications at its Jan. 9 meeting. The panel set a "priority" deadline of Jan. 4, but it said it would continue to accept applications after that date.

The commission hired Passailaigue, then director of the South Carolina lottery, in 2009 to launch the Arkansas games. He resigned Sept. 19 following a series of complaints about the games’ management, including a nearly $100,000 penalty the Internal Revenue Service levied against it for late payments.

Commission Chairwoman Dianne Lamberth said the panel doesn’t have a strict timeline for when to hire a replacement for Passailaigue.

"We’ll leave it open ended until we find the right one," Lamberth told reporters after the meeting.

Commissioner Ben Pickard said that the 2009 search came as the panel was trying to quickly launch the games, a challenge it doesn’t face today.

"We were under quite a bit of pressure to act at that point," he said.

After Passailaigue’s departure, Vice President for Gaming David Barden resigned and Vice President for Administration Ernestine Middleton was fired. Julie Baldridge, who had been the lottery’s spokeswoman and legislative relations director, is serving as interim director during the search and won’t be a candidate for Passailaigue’s job.

Commissioners said they don’t know how the lottery’s organization will look after a new director is hired and whether Passailaigue’s successor would restructure the vice president positions.

They said the next director shouldn’t expect to draw the same hefty salary Passailaigue enjoyed. Passailaigue’s $326,000 annual pay was criticized during his tenure. Barden and Middleton received $225,000 salaries.

Lamberth said she doesn’t want the next director to be paid as much as Passailaigue. State law sets the lottery director’s maximum salary at $141,603 but allows the commission to pay as much as $354,000 with legislative approval.

"I’m not in favor of paying what we paid the director previously," Commissioner Bruce Engstrom said.

Pickard responded, "I don’t think you’re going to hear any objection."