Peter J. O’Connell was born in Providence on April 16, 1921, to Irish immigrant parents. Peter was raised in Mount Pleasant and attended Blessed Sacrament School and LaSalle Academy. His strong faith and moral values rooted in family formulated the way he lived his private and public life.
Peter married his devoted wife, Frances in 1968. They were involved in numerous charitable efforts. After 52 years of marriage, Francis died in January 2021 and Peter passed away two months later, a few days short of his 100th birthday.
During World War II, Peter joined the United States Marine Corps and served in the Pacific and Manchuria, China. Peter was a wonderful storyteller and spoke often of his challenging days as a Marine. He was proud to serve his country.
Returning from the war, Peter joined the Rhode Island State Police, where he served with distinction for 25 years. During his tenure he held several top-level positions, including acting Superintendent, Executive Officer, Adjutant Patrol and Division Commander, Detective Commander, Director of Training, as he rose to the rank of Major.
As chairman of the New England Police Intelligence Unit, he designed and implemented the New England Police Management School for State Police, which became known nationally. Major O’Connell was inducted into the Rhode Island Criminal Justice Hall of Fame in 2014.
In May of 1974, at Governor Noel’s request, Major O’Connell was named the first Executive Director of the Rhode Island Lottery where he served until his retirement in 1993 making him the longest tenured Lottery Director in the Unites States.
Under O’Connell’s leadership, the Rhode Island Lottery began ticket sales on May
21, 1974, with a 50-cent weekly game called The Lot. In January 1975, Rhode Island was the first state to televise a live lottery drawing and was the first Lottery to have a weekly television program. A daily Numbers Game was added in February 1976, followed by its first instant scratch-ticket game, Play Ball, three months later. With the introduction of a computerized gaming system in February 1978, total sales doubled. In 1981, 4/40 was the Lottery’s first lotto game.
Major O’Connell was a pioneer in the lottery field and the use of instant ticket and on-line systems. After years of promoting the concept of a multi-state lottery, Major O’Connell served a two-year term as the first President of the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL), where in 1988 he was instrumental in launching Lotto*America, the predecessor of today’s Powerball.
In 1993, the Public Gaming Research Institute honored Major O’Connell with the “Major Peter O’Connell Lottery Career Achievement Award” presented for “the principles of high integrity, commitment to the quality of the lottery, dedication to the lottery playing public, professional independence and service to the state, along with tenure in office, as exemplified by Major O’Connell.” On October 3, 1994, the R.I. General Assembly, authorized by then Gov. Bruce Sundlun, named the R.I. Lottery Building the “Major Peter J. O’Connell Building” for his dedication and outstanding service to the State of Rhode Island.