Seven years after Illinois heralded privatization as the cure for lagging lottery sales, the state’s latest lottery director now says he’s not sure the model works.

The private firm hired to manage the Illinois Lottery never met its lofty bid projections, and for 2½ years the state has said it’s been working to replace it. But the process has dragged on, even as Tribune investigations have exposed questionable actions of and payments to the firm.

Some lawmakers have questioned the lottery’s oversight of the firm, why it’s taking so long to replace the firm and whether the privatization model is even right for Illinois.

At a state Capitol budget hearing Wednesday, Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, asked the lottery’s acting director, Greg Smith, about the latter. Smith wouldn’t directly say if he thought privatization was wrong in Illinois, citing the pending replacement process. But, in general, he offered a far less glowing assessment of privatization than previous lottery directors and other state officials.