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Editorial: The state lottery, starring...

Nov 11, 2005, 9:21 am

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Editorial / Opinion

By Jim Jenkins, News & Observer

The startup of the new North Carolina state lottery has of late turned into a soap opera with more twists than "All My Children." But it's more akin to one of those situation comedies than to depressing drama. Sure, it is depressing drama, but the way things have been going, you gotta admit it's been more, well, slapstick lately.

Consider all the hoo-rah around passage in the General Assembly, which most years is itself an ongoing comedy, which is the way you have to look at it if you want to retain some faith in this thing called democracy. Lottery companies have invested thousands, probably tens of thousands of dollars in lobbyists and for lack of a better term, "people who aren't really lobbying but are just keeping us posted," which is how one company, Scientific Games, sort of described its relationship with Meredith Norris, formerly a close political aide to House Speaker Jim Black.

Then it turned out that the company also had a relationship with Kevin Geddings, a Charlotte public relations guy who was paid over $24,000 by the company this year to push the lottery. Geddings was actually appointed to the lottery commission. Black did the deed, though he expressed chagrin at (and ignorance of) Geddings' undisclosed connections with Scientific Games once the company told the story in a filing with the Secretary of State. Geddings is gone from the group now, despite having vowed to The N&O that he would have to be dragged away. For a lottery that hasn't even begun, this hasn't been such good PR, if you know what we mean.

All things considered, though, my favorite disclosure in all of this was the $5,000 Scientific Games paid Geddings supposedly to help "coach" state Sen. Tony Rand on debating the lottery, Rand being a lottery man, you know. I don't know how many folks know Tony Rand, but he needs coaching in a debate about as much as Knute Rockne needed it in Notre Dame's stadium.

One reader engaged in sanity maintenance called your correspondent yesterday to pose this riddle: What do a landfill and a North Carolina lottery have in common? Answer: They both start with "l," and they both stink, although there are some limitations on how high you can pile stuff in the landfill.

In any case, this whole situation comedy got us to thinking, if the road to the state lottery were indeed a television show, which one would it be and who would play whom?

We like "Cheers," the great sitcom set in a Boston bar, as the model for the lottery show. We see Governor Easley as Sam the bartender, trying to keep everything together while assorted eccentrics are driving him out of his mind. Sam likes fast cars; Easley likes fast cars. Sam's cool; Easley's cool. Sam's surrounded by zany, offbeat...er...interesting people; Easley is surrounded by the N.C. General Assembly.

Then there was Carla, the blunt, no-nonsense waitress who kept everybody in line and was feared a little because if you were too demanding, she might let you wear your beer. In this case, we'll have to adjust the gender and call the character a waiter, and we're looking at Speaker Jim Black in the role. Carla made a bad choice in men; Black had trouble with his choice as a lottery commissioner. Carla was a master at getting good tips; Black is a master at gathering campaign contributions. And if you cross 'em, whoa.

Then we had Frasier Crane, eminent doctor, who observed the whole scene in the bar and thought to himself, "I really don't belong here, but this is a fascinating case study." We go with Dr. Charles Sanders, an esteemed physician, hospital administrator and formerly the head of Glaxo, in the part. Sanders, a lottery opponent, is the head of the lottery commission, and after watching all this stuff happen lately as an innocent bystander, you've got to reckon he's wondered whether he ought to be where he is, either.

We know, we know. Who'll play the central character of Norm, the all-wise philosopher, a man with mysterious ways of guiding others to his will without them knowing it? This was a shrewd fellow who had people underestimating his absolute ruling of the roost. No one challenged his bar stool. We ask you, could it be anyone but Marc Basnight of Manteo, Senate president pro tem? Basnight's the one, after all, who made the lottery possible when he called for a vote in his chamber while two lottery opponents were absent and got the one-vote margin he needed. We can picture the opening scene now, Basnight coming in to the bar, the crowd shouting, "Marc!" (By the way, we wanted something for Tony Rand, but we understand he's interested only in the big screen.)

This thing has got Emmy written all over it.

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