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N.C. lawmaker predicts lottery will fail

Mar 25, 2005, 12:36 pm

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North Carolina lawmakers are scheduled to vote next week on whether or not North Carolina will have a lottery, and Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, said he expects the lottery will fail.

"In my opinion, it will be defeated by 16 to 20 votes," Gillespie said.

He is opposed to a state lottery.

One of several lottery proposals in the General Assembly would create a "local-option lottery." Under the bill, county commissioners could call for a vote on a lottery. If voters in at least 25 counties voted for a lottery, the state would begin operating the games and selling tickets in those counties.

That proposal appears that it will never come up for a vote, because House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, wants legislators to vote up or down on a lottery .

But the proposal is similar to how the state regulates liquor by the drink, which has been under local control for decades. Voters opposed to a lottery could prevent the presence in their counties, but the state would still get revenue that its losing to neighboring states.

"That was something that was floated out here several weeks ago," said Gillespie. "That has been dead in the water for three weeks. If you are going to have a lottery, local option is not the way to go."

He added Black has said a vote of the people on the lottery issue is unconstitutional.

Researchers estimate that North Carolinians spend $300 million a year in the lotteries of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

"A lot of North Carolinians are spending a lot of time on the road to buy these tickets, and its a waste," said Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, the primary sponsor of the local option bill.

The bill could also appeal to legislators representing border counties, where the effects of lotteries in surrounding states are more immediate.

But lottery opponents argue that, in effect, no county would be free of the lottery. Lottery players in non-lottery counties could travel across the county line and return with their tickets. Corrupting influences cross county lines, they argue, and counties would compete with each other for players.

"It sets counties up against each other," said John Rustin, a spokesman for the N.C. Family Policy Council, which opposes a lottery. "Counties will prey on surrounding counties that dont enact a lottery to try to pull as much participation as they can."

In addition, the state would still be in the business of running a gambling industry.

"No matter how you package it, its the lottery and you cant deny that," Rustin said. "Its state-sponsored gambling."

Owens said that losing money to the lotteries of neighboring states is worse.

"A lot of people, including myself, think the state should not be in the gambling business," Owens said. "But I think its worse to lose the half billion dollars."

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