Published: June 26, 2024

Celebrating 50 years, the Illinois Lottery holds a rich history that can be traced all the way to Zeke Giorgi

Remembering Zeke Giorgi

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Celebrating 50 years, the Illinois Lottery holds a rich history that can be traced all the way to a well-known leader in Rockford.

Before 1974, there were many people opposed to the idea of a state-wide lottery, including then Governor Dan Walker. But Edolo “Zeke” Giorgi, a former alderman and state representative for the 68th District, saw a real opportunity for the state to do some good with the money the lottery could earn. Called the “Dean of the House,” Giorgi was known for being able to solve the public’s problems. His grandson, current state representative Dave Vella, says Giorgi believed the lottery gave the working man an opportunity to become a millionaire.

“He knew that there was money out there being spent in gambling and he wanted it to go to the schools because he was a big fan of education. He never got a chance to go to college himself. But he always wanted to go,” Vella says. “As much money as he could get into education as possible, he knew that was a way. Gambling itself is really adding to our economy.”

Nearly 25% of the Illinois Lottery’s earnings go towards good causes like the Common School Fund, a dream that began with Giorgi more than 50 years ago. Luke Fredrickson with the Midway Village Museum explains Giorgi’s commitment toward bettering education is what helped him muster the support to move the lottery bill forward.

“In 1974, the bill authorizing the lottery was passed and the Governor, Dan Walker, came to Rockford and signed the bill with Giorgi here and dubbed him the “father of the lottery” so that’s quite an honor,” Fredrickson says.

Vella says his grandfather would be proud of the lottery today, but he would probably wish even more funds went to Illinois schools. He continues to follow in his Giorgi’s footsteps making his office an open space for anyone to share their concerns, the same way his grandfather did while in office.

“He was someone that everybody trusted. Republicans and Democrats, business and working men. They knew to go talk to him to figure out the problems they had,” Vella says. “In politics, sometimes there are people that just want to do good, and he was one of those people.”

Giorgi died in 1993, leaving behind a legacy that stretches far beyond the Illinois lottery. Just to name a few, Giorgi shepherded several projects including the Metro Center, the River Front Museum Park, and Tollway 39.

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