DOVER — What are the odds of staying in the same office for nearly a half century?
Not good, but Vernon A. Kirk has certainly enjoyed defying them.
The Delaware Lottery director is in his 45th year there, and that’s fine with him.
“My job now is the best job in the world by far, I can tell you that,” he said earlier this week.
“Besides the fact there’s only 47 state lottery directors in the country so it’s a pretty exclusive club to be sure.
“But where else can you provide fun and entertainment to your customers, exciting games, different products, etcetera, and at the same time you’re supporting your states with funds for a bunch of services that might otherwise require additional taxes so you’re helping everybody.
“That’s what you try to make people feel too, that every time you buy a lottery ticket you’re not just buying it for yourself, technically, you’re helping support all these other services …”
Not surprisingly, Delaware Lottery marked the start of its 45th year Friday with a tribute to Mr. Kirk during a celebration outside headquarters on McKee Road.
Said Department of Finance Secretary Rick Geisenberger prior to presenting a plaque and other gifts, ‘The secret to Vern’s success is just an incredible amount of institutional knowledge both locally and nationally and a real focus on the relationships we have with our vendors, our retailers and the product we deliver to our customer.
“The lottery is all about making it fun and Vern understands that and focuses on how to make it entertainment.
“By doing that he insures he can meet his mission, which ultimately to optimize the state’s revenue.”
Delaware Lottery has generated over $5.6 billion in revenue for the state’s General Fund, contributing funding to public services such as education, health and social services, public safety, and child, youth and family services. The $177.4 million raised in fiscal year 2020 was the fifth highest revenue generator in the state.
Creating the success wasn’t a one-person achievement and Mr. Kirk described his gratitude to an approximately 50-member staff as “Off the charts.
“These are some of the most wonderful people that I’ve ever been associated with and I couldn’t do my job without them doing their job and making me look good.”
Mr. Kirk is one 18 current State of Delaware employees overall with 45 years of consecutive service, according to the Office of Management and Budget. He’s currently the longest serving state lottery director in the nation.
Joining Delaware Lottery at the outset, Mr. Kirk took part in much of the initial planning. He’s served as director since 2011, and has managed in operational, administrative and financial roles during parts of his run.
After a LOTTO Superfecta game involving the results of live horse racing at the state’s tracks failed in 1975, the lottery relaunched that year with Diamond Dollars, which was drawn weekly at locations across the state. The state’s first instant game — Diamond Instant Dollars — was introduced in 1976.
While a football parlay product quickly failed after introduction in 1976, Delaware Lottery became the first to oversee sports betting at casinos by introducing football parlays in 2009. The parlays extended to retail locations in 2012.
Online casino gaming came in 2013, followed by the arrival of full-scale sports betting in 2018.
Now 72 years old, Mr. Kirk has no plans to retire.
“I worry about waiting so long for my ship to come in that my pier collapses,” he said. “I want to make sure I don’t wait too long so that (my wife) Jan and I can’t really enjoy ourselves.
“Having said that, my health is particularly good and I don’t have any issues.
“Jan keeps saying that with her she knew when it was time to get out of Dodge (and retired after more than three decades teaching at Dover High) and she said you’ll know when it’s right.
“Now it’s still interesting, it’s still fun, it’s still exciting. I like giving away money to all these people and I like being able to help my state so it doesn’t seem like a job to me.
“I come in here and do these administrative things but it’s not work, it’s not a job. Maybe I’ve been doing too long, it’s just a routine.
“The short answer is I don’t know.”
In a statement, Delaware Gov. John Carney described Mr. Kirk as “respected and admired nationwide for his deep knowledge of the gaming industry.
“Delawareans continue to benefit now, as they have for many decades, from Vernon’s leadership and expertise.”
Mr. Kirk’s family moved from New Jersey before he was old to attend school, arriving due to his father’s civil service work at Dover Air Force Base.
A chance meeting while playing cards brought Mr. Kirk’s opportunity to join Delaware Lottery - He connected with a bridge player who happened to be a consultant for creating the lottery office.
Prior to that, Mr. Kirk had worked as a recreation center manager at alma mater University of Delaware (where he graduated with degrees in Political Science and Public Administration) and at the Delaware State News in the circulation department, along with spending time as a self-described “house husband.”
The opportunity to join the lottery trumped all that.
“It seemed more interesting than a lot of other jobs,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed the gambling, playing cards, going to the track with friends once in awhile with friends, so I was always pretty good with odds and stuff like that. I wasn’t really thinking about that, though. I was just looking for a job, not a career.”
As part of Delaware Lottery’s anniversary, a new set “Celebrating 45 Years” Instant Games were created. A $1 ticket has a top prize of $1,000, $2 could garner $5,000, $5, could return $15,000 and a $10 purchase could bring a top prize of $45,000.
All non-winning 45-year instant tickets are eligible for second chance drawings as well through the Collect N’ Win loyalty and rewards program launched last year.
While more than 600 Delaware Lottery locations now exist, five have taken part since the inception:
• Bayville Package Store in Selbyville
• James & Jesse’s Barber in Wilmington
• Steve’s Tavern in Wilmington
• Manor Pharmacy in New Castle
• Naaman’s Beverage Mart in Claymont