RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Education Lottery formally sought information Monday on how it could operate casino-style video gambling machines should the GOP-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue decide to regulate — rather than keep outlawing — them.
New lottery Executive Director Alice Garland said her agency put out a request for details from companies that have the ability to run a centrally operated video lottery terminal system that would operate multiple games. The request, which sets a Feb. 28 deadline for responses, is not a request for competitive bids to actually carry out such a set of games.
Garland emphasized the lottery has no opinion about whether the state should get in the business. Rather, it wants to be prepared as a precautionary matter should lawmakers agree it wants to use the lottery to regulate video gambling and a contract is needed.
"Should the Legislature decide to do something, they're going to want it done yesterday," Garland said, adding that the request for information "gives us a legitimate way for us to get educated" on the topic. Lottery officials could avoid situations where informal discussions with vendors could be perceived as favoritism.
Perdue has said she's considering whether to recommend the Republican-led Legislature should pass legislation to regulate the machines, which are currently the subject of a state ban that's being litigated. The lottery provided data to lawmakers in 2010 showing the state could one day generate $576 million annually if lawmakers legalize video poker machines again and regulate them heavily.
Garland said the Perdue administration has asked many questions in recent weeks about video lottery gambling but "I've not gotten an affirmative response that they're going to do anything" on the idea.
The Legislature banned traditional video poker machines in 2007 and lawmakers have tried twice to also prohibit video sweepstakes machines, where customers buy Internet or phone time that gives them the opportunity to uncover potential cash and prizes with mouse clicks on a computer screen.
A Superior Court judge ruled in November that portions of the sweepstakes law are too broad and violated free-speech rights, opening the door for some machines to keep operating. Attorney General Roy Cooper's office appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said a few weeks ago that regulating machines is something that could be looked at if it becomes clear it's impossible to eradicate all machines.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said Monday evening many Republicans didn't like the machines last year when the latest ban was passed. But he said he wouldn't bar discussion on regulating machines.
"We cannot shut down alternatives," he said. "What we may find out is by thinking about something that's outside of our comfort zone we can find something else that's acceptable."
Thanks to jbarn884 for the tip.