Willy Wonka was the eccentric man in charge of the crazy candy factory, a palace of sweet dreams and, of course, Oompa Loompas. Chocolate flowed in the form of a river. Gobstoppers were everlasting. You could even eat the dishes.
Stuttgart-native Bishop Woosley is in charge of another type of candy factory. His colorful products include neon bright scratch-off tickets and not-so-colorful lottery tickets. However, there’s really only one color that dominates Woosley’s world — green.
Woosley has worked in the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery office since there was such a thing, a creation coming about after a voter-approved act set the course for the first state lottery in 2009. For the past seven plus years, Woosley has served as director, overseeing the engine that churns out big money payouts and scholarships.
Most new people he meets are fascinated by his unique job.
“They generally ask me two questions when they find out what I do,” says Woosley, 46. “They want to know the [lottery] numbers or they want to know how somebody becomes the director of the lottery.”
“He has been with the lottery from the beginning,” notes Larry Walther, secretary of the state’s Department of Finance and Administration. “He was there when the law was passed in the Legislature and knows the rules that established the lottery. He has a depth of the knowledge about the lottery and the running of the lottery that most people don’t.”
Walther points out that Woosley’s years as director make him among the longest-serving leaders of a state lottery in the country.
“The Arkansas lottery is now handing out over $90 million in scholarships and that is due in great part to his leadership,” Walther says.
The high regard Woosley is held in national lottery circles will be on full display when the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries arrives in Little Rock in mid-September for a convention. The president of the association? One Bishop Woosley.
“I am really happy that Little Rock was able to land this convention,” Woosley says. “It’s huge with about 700 or 800 people coming in. They are filling up hotels and will be here for three to four days.”
A RICEBIRD STAR
As a kid in Stuttgart, Woosley’s days were filled with few restrictions. He clocked in on neighborhood fun in the morning and didn’t clock out until the sun was about to go down, the hours occupied with ad hoc basketball and baseball games.
“Typical small town stuff, you ran all around the neighborhood,” Woosley recalls. “There was always a game or something to do. Close to our house was this huge ditch and I spent lot of time there with a BB gun shooting snakes. My parents probably wouldn’t want me to say that.”
“I always try to go down to our [Claim Center] to shake the hand of the big winners — the ones that have won a million or more. It’s fascinating to look at someone whose life has changed. They aren’t wild. They are excited, but a lot of times they don’t know what to say.”
The family business was education and coaching. When Woosley was young, both parents worked and coached at Stuttgart High School.
“My parents were educators. My sister started out as a teacher and is now a principal. My dad got out of education entirely but then later was president of the school board. Education was very important in my house. We had to make the grades. If you didn’t, you got grounded. You knew exactly the expectation in my parents’ house.”
Though Woosley didn’t care much for the game of football starting out, by the time he reached high school he was a key component in Stuttgart High’s gridiron hopes and dreams.
“In my school there were the kids that got let out early to go work at the farm,” Woosley says. “I didn’t do that but I stayed later to practice and play football.”
Woosley downplays his accomplishments on the field — although he does finally let on that he was team captain. Former KATV anchor Scott Inman, a longtime friend who grew up with Woosley in Stuttgart, remembers it a different way.
“He was a heck of a football player,” Inman says. “A good tight end for the [Stuttgart High] Ricebirds. He’s very competitive in life. Pickup games in his driveway, he would play to win.”
Inman praises his friend for qualities that were easy to spot even on the first meeting.
“Bishop is rock solid. What you see if what you get. You don’t question anything he says because you know it’s good and he’s telling you the truth.”
That Woosley would go on from the Stuttgart High football field to eventually run the lottery for the state is not what Inman expected.
“Yeah, I think it’s a surprise on both sides,” Inman says. “When we used to cruise around Stuttgart, I think we had an idea we’d be successful but couldn’t have imagined that one of us would have been a television news anchor and the other would be director of the lottery.”
Woosley understood from an early age that his high school diploma would not serve as his Get Out of School card.
“There was a never a question that I would go to college,” Woosley notes.
Woosley arrived at the University of Central Arkansas without much of an idea what kind of classes he would take or even what direction he was headed.
“I was not a great student in high school. I was a good student but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Woosley recalls.
His advisers at UCA were happy to provide a path forward for Woosley.
“You show up and they sign up you for classes,” Woosley says. “They ask you, ‘What do you think you want to do.’ I had no idea. UCA had a strong business college and so they said, ‘OK, finance.’ I was a finance major for three semesters until I got to the finance class. After that, I changed my major to political science and geography. My brain just didn’t work the way a finance major needed.”
The change allowed Woosley to explore his own interests in a greater way.
“I love history. I love maps, geography. I just think that spoke to me. I found something that interested me. My family didn’t travel a lot. Maybe that’s why I made a point as an adult to travel. I love to travel. It’s probably why I love space. It’s way off, distant lands. I am a map geek and a history geek.”
The end of his time at UCA epitomizes for Woosley, as he notes, to “fall backwards into success.” He made it to his senior year and was bearing down on graduation day but wasn’t sure what was going to come next.
“On a whim I took the LSAT test and did well enough to get in the UALR law school,” Woosley says. “Again, not as much of a plan behind the idea. I’ve always been a good test taker but not the best student. Anyway, I graduated on a Friday and went to law school on a Monday.”
The image of a small town lawyer is one of ease with only the occasional case interrupting biscuits being tossed to the office dog. The image did not fit with Woosley’s experience when he returned to his hometown to practice law.
“The joke is that being a country lawyer is great because you only have to work half a day — you just have to decide which 12 hours it is.”
His first law job was working for longtime Stuttgart lawyers David Henry and J.W. Green “taking on anything that walked through the door.” It wasn’t long before Woosley was also working part-time as a deputy prosecutor.
Even as a lawyer fresh out of law school, Woosley felt primed and ready for the action.
“The best practice and preparation anyone could ask for in life happened to me as a young lawyer.”
He figured out that he was made for the heightened environment and the routine clashes with the other side.
“I loved court,” Woosley says. “I loved the fight. I loved standing on your feet going toe to toe. With small town law you are in court three or four times a week. You walk in and are handed 10 to 20 case files and you open up a file and start your case. You might have some limited prep time, but not often. It was the greatest legal training on earth. You throw yourself in the middle of a fight. There was a small group that you dealt with on a daily basis. You learn to be at each other’s throats and then step out of the courtroom and set it aside. You can’t take it personally.”
The next step that took Woosley closer to his landing spot with the lottery was a definitive one. In 2007 he went to work in the state’s attorney general’s office under the direction of the newly elected Dustin McDaniel.
Woosley was placed on the legislative team and enjoyed going over to the Capitol to “watch the sausage made, so to speak.”
Once set in place by voters and lawmakers, Woosley made the leap and was hired as a procurement director for the brand new Arkansas Scholarship Lottery.
The first months working to establish a lottery where none had been before were memorable.
“We went from zero employees to probably 65 to 70 in two months,” Woosley recalls. “We signed all of our contracts and the contracts could be up to 400 to 600 pages with lots of lottery lingo in them. We licensed 1,400 retailers in two months. The pace of it was madness. It was madness.”
Arkansas, which had taken its time to warm up to state-sanctioned gambling, didn’t waste any in giving citizens a shot at big money.
“It was supposedly the fastest lottery startup in history. It took us 44 days. At the time, no other lottery had started up that fast.”
Those intense early days of the lottery now in the rear-view mirror, Woosley has a different intensity at home to deal with — welcoming a new daughter, Veda Kate, barely a month old. He and his wife, Rachel, also have a 14 year-old daughter, Harper.
Woosley’s down time is spent in get-togethers with friends, grilling or going out for the occasional hunt. He pursues his passion for travel whenever possible.
Time off is always great, but it’s clear that Woosley relishes his position overseeing an office that can hand out checks that change the lives of lottery winners and students heading off to college.
Besides just stating that his job is “fun,” Woosley defends the lottery itself even as he notes that there was a general reluctance by the state early on to accept it.
“In the first few years [after the election], nobody would admit they voted for the lottery,” Woosley says. “But it was passed by 63% of the vote so certainly some people did. I always said I voted for it because I did. I wish they had the scholarships from it when I went to college.”
On the ground floor of the building with the offices of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery is the Claim Center, a brightly colored room where the money — sometimes millions — is awarded to the lucky few.
“I always try to go down to our [Claim Center] to shake the hand of the big winners — the ones that have won a million or more” Woosley says. “It’s fascinating to look at someone whose life has changed. They aren’t wild. They are excited, but a lot of times they don’t know what to say.
“I try to get a story out of them. A big part of what we do is winner awareness. So you try to talk to them and engage them.”
Woosley tells this aspect of his job with a definite Willy Wonka twinkle in his eye.
DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: July 2, 1973, Stuttgart
I AM AT PEACE WHEN I AM: On the beach with my family, smoking meat with my friends or watching the sun set over Little Post Bayou south of Gillett.
ONE PLACE I WANT TO VISIT BUT HAVEN’T YET: Patagonia or the moon.
PEOPLE WHO WIN LOTS OF MONEY ON THE LOTTERY USUALLY: Strangely enough, most are very calm, almost in shock. One of my favorite things to do is to go to the claim center and see the look on the face of a player who just won a large prize. It is a cool experience.
MY FAVORITE WASTE OF TIME: Sitting anywhere on a beach or riding on back roads in the Delta.
MY FAVORITE DESSERT: Hands down, blackberry cobbler and vanilla ice cream.
THE FOUR GUESTS AT MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY: During law school I had the good fortune of living next-door to my Papaw, Bill “Wimpy” Welch. About twice a month I would take him to the Dixie Pig in Levy to eat BBQ. He is gone now. I would like to have BBQ with him just one more time.
ONE WORD THAT SUMS ME UP: Relentless
“My family didn’t travel a lot. Maybe that’s why I made a point as an adult to travel. I love to travel. It’s probably why I love space. It’s way off, distant lands. I am a map geek and a history geek.”