When Sara Barnett started working for the Illinois Bureau of Tourism almost eight years ago, she had no idea she would eventually become a key part of the nation’s first privatized lottery. She was integrally involved in making the lottery a separate department, creating the first lottery iGaming site, and taking on the political, bureaucratic and business issues confronting the lottery with style and competence.
Now, she has a new challenge as the chief transition officer for the Illinois Lottery, where Barnett is responsible for handling the day-to-day tasks that have been generated by the termination of the lottery’s most recent private manager. In essence, she leads the charge for ensuring a smooth transition to a new private manager during this time.
It will certainly not be an easy task to manage the transition from an unsuccessful business deal between private and government entities to a new public/private partnership, but Barnett shows no signs of wavering in the face of her newest challenge. In fact, she sees it as an opportunity to show her unique skill set of both public service and business experience.
As Barnett has shown throughout her career, true success is made of three main ingredients: hard work, dedication and passion.
Barnett graduated from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and went on to earn her master’s degree in public policy and administration from Northwestern University. After working in finance positions for several political campaigns, she became the assistant deputy for the Illinois Bureau of Tourism. In this role, she sharpened her skills in marketing, public relations and international business, which helped her find her true calling.
When the chief of staff position at the Illinois Lottery was offered to her, Barnett promptly accepted, because it would allow her to maintain her commitment to public service while learning all levels of private business—a perfect career opportunity.
As chief of staff, she was involved in all levels of numerous marketing and creative campaigns for the lottery. Barnett took on the responsibilities for the marketing and launch of lottery tickets that benefit special causes, such as veterans’ programs and breast cancer research. Special-cause games are part of what Barnett finds the most enjoyable about the lottery industry, as they help bring revenue to things that people believe in.
When asked about a career mentor, Barnett immediately credits Michael Jones, the director of the Illinois Lottery. She describes him as “passionate” and explains that he “really understands the industry; he taught me everything I know about it.” Jones taught her how to effectively market the lottery to maximize its potential in an ethical and socially responsible manner.
Before working for the Illinois Lottery, she had no experience in gaming. Despite her lack of experience, Barnett saw this as a positive in many ways, as she was a “fresh, blank slate who was ready to learn.” It is this open-mindedness and determination that has brought her to her current position as chief transition officer.
For the coming year, “I look forward to change, trying new things, and making a difference in this industry,” says Barnett. She also wants to be more “hands on” and “learn technology and operations” to feed her curiosity.
Barnett’s career journey is a great example of how someone with little gaming knowledge can become a true success story in the gaming industry.