Harold Mays (EE ’89)

Keeping the Lottery
Fun and Fair

By Thaddeus Mast

The Illinois Lottery has more moving parts than a big payout check, and an Illinois Tech alumnus is in charge of making it fun and fair for all.

As a student, Harold Mays (EE ’89) never imagined working for the state government for almost 20 years, let alone as the director of the Illinois Department of the Lottery, a position he has held for five years. Helping fund Illinois schools and special causes through lottery game sales fall under Mays’s watchful eyes.

“Most people know of the lottery, but they have no idea what goes on behind the scenes to enable the sale of our games in 7,000 retail outlets and online, what systems and processes are necessary to ensure the security and integrity of the lottery and provide players with a satisfying experience. It’s very interesting and complex,” Mays says.

Mays’s affinity for math in high school led him to an electrical engineering degree, but he hasn’t used that technical expertise for years. Instead, he leans on the softer skills that he learned at Illinois Tech.

“I haven’t done any hardcore engineering for almost 20 years, but it is and was the foundation for everything I’ve done in my career,” Mays says. “It taught me how to think, work together to solve problems, and the value of relationships. That value helped me the most.”

The lottery’s relationship with Illinois schools is a driving force for Mays. Since 1985 the Illinois Lottery has contributed more than $24 billion to the Common School Fund. The Illinois Lottery also launches “specialty instant games” in support of such causes as the Special Olympics.

“What we do really means something. Every ticket we sell makes a difference. It gives me a lot of job satisfaction, knowing our proceeds are doing something good,” Mays says.

Mays finished his time at Illinois Tech focusing on power engineering, which led to a 10-year career at ComEd. His interest in project management led to work in telecommunications and technology.

Mays would eventually work for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, the group that makes sure the rest of the state government can function. A decade ago, he became chief of operations and technology at the Department of the Lottery.

As a man of many hats, and career changes, Mays encourages everyone to create their own path, regardless of where life leads you.

“Be open-minded to opportunities. There’s no way I could have anticipated being where I am today, shifting from engineering to lotteries. I couldn’t have planned that, but I was willing to try new things,” Mays says.

Mays now hopes to pass on his knowledge to the current generation of Illinois Tech students as a member of the Alumni Board.

“From my housing project origins and coming of age in the Lawndale community on the West Side to college at Illinois Tech and ultimately where I am now—I can relate to kids that don’t have a conventional path,” Mays says.