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N.C. lottery supporters try to control expectations

May 23, 2005, 11:06 am

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North Carolina Lottery

Lottery supporters in North Carolina are hoping to reach a compromise and get a bill enacted into law this session, possibly as early as next month.

Supporters, however, want people to know that once a bill is crafted and signed into law, anxious lottery players won't be able to play the games in North Carolina overnight. In fact, it's more likely that it would be early 2006 before vendors start selling and players start scratching off lottery tickets.

"I hope that we would be smart enough to learn from the mistakes of other states and from the successes of other states," said Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, who sponsored the lottery bill that passed the state House earlier this year.

"It usually takes about six months to get the scratch-off games started," said Ken Levinbook, a General Assembly staff attorney who has worked on the lottery bill.

There are a number of steps that have to be taken before a lottery becomes reality.

First a lottery commission has to be appointed. Under the bills pending in the General Assembly, Gov. Mike Easley, Senate President Marc Basnight, D-Dare, and House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, would appoint the members of the lottery commission.

"The governor, speaker and Marc could do it in a day," Owens said.

Next, the members of the lottery commission would have to hire an executive director of the lottery. In two neighboring states, which have enacted lotteries in recent years, that process has taken about two months.

Once that is done, the nitty-gritty work of establishing a lottery gets under way.

The new director hires the staff. Then the staff begins working on the contract for lottery machines, equipment and an online provider. Staff members then have to work out contracts with retail outlets - primarily convenience stores and grocery stores - and provide training for store managers that plan to sell lottery tickets.

The process in South Carolina took five months from the day the executive director was hired until the first ticket was sold.

Ernie Passailaigue, executive director of the South Carolina Education Lottery, said that when he began his first day on the job, all he had was a couple of temporary offices and a telephone.

The South Carolina lottery was signed into law in June 2001. Passailaigue took the helm of the state's lottery on Aug. 7, 2001. Five months later, on Jan. 7, 2002, customers began purchasing lottery tickets.

"The key is hiring the best people," Passailaigue said.

A lot of things are involved in starting a lottery, he said. For example, lottery staff people have to conduct financial and criminal background checks on all the retail applicants. Staff members have to get bids from companies wanting to provide the equipment for lottery games.

All the while, there is pressure to get the games started as soon as feasible.

"Every day you're not selling tickets, you're going to be losing $5 million to $6 million a day," he said, referring to what a lottery in North Carolina would likely take in.

Usually, they begin with the simpler scratch-off ticket games.

It's all a matter of educating the public about the games and marketing the lottery, he said.

"What you have is a strategy to roll out the games to maximize sales," Passailaigue said.

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