North Carolina Governor Mike Easley's support for an educational lottery is backed in varying degrees among local legislators from his own party and from Republicans who support a voter referendum on a lottery because they say it's favored by a majority of their constituents.
Rep. Alice Graham Underhill, D-Craven, says even her constituents who are against a lottery want a referendum to be held to resolve the issue, which she says has been continually cropping up for years.
Irrespective of a referendum, the ultimate decision rests with the General Assembly, Underhill said, adding a referendum could help gauge public opinion for lawmakers.
"Actually, I'm finding that my constituents over the last few years have been more inclined to at least have a referendum - an advisory referendum - on a lottery and so that's what I have committed to them to support," she said.
All the states that border North Carolina - Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia - have lotteries, Underhill added, and residents are crossing state lines to buy lottery tickets, generating revenue for those other states.
There is existing support for an education lottery, as long as it earmarks more money for education without making cuts to current funding sources, Underhill said.
"I personally don't think lotteries are a great way to do business," Underhill added. "It's generally not good public policy to be in the gambling business, obviously.
Underhill's misgivings about a lottery were shared by Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow.
Although Brown favors a referendum, he said he has reservations about a lottery.
"In Onslow County, I would say seven out of every 10 people want the lottery," Brown said. "I would vote to let the people decide even though personally I'm against the lottery."
His reservations arise from concerns about the morality of gambling, he said.
"I think that people with low incomes would try to see it as a get-rich-quick scheme and that would put them in more poverty," Brown said. "And at the same time, I understand that you can't legislate the way people spend their money."
While he would vote to pass a referendum, Brown said he would be less likely to vote for a lottery.
Sen. Scott Thomas, D-Craven, however, said he would vote to pass either a lottery bill or a referendum.
"We're now surrounded by states that operate the lottery and I believe it's only fair that our citizens have the opportunity to vote on the issue in this state, in our state," he said. "An education lottery would be a way for us to raise anywhere from $350 to $400 million dollars a year in recurring revenue and we have many needs in this state, particularly in education and the revenue raised from an education lottery would do much to help meet those needs."
Currently, the state doesn't have adequate funding for education to meet its future obligations, Thomas said.
Rep. William Wainwright, D-Craven, supports a referendum but says any lottery bill likely would require extensive negotiations before it was transformed into the final bill. He would make his decision at that time.
The governor wants lottery funds to be used to pay for expansions to current education programs.
"The governor supports an education lottery with the proceeds being used to fund lower class size in grade Kindergarten through third-grade, More at Four and construction," spokeswoman Sherri Johnson said in a written statement.
Others oppose the lottery. A spokesman for the Common Sense Foundation, a nonprofit think tank based in Raleigh, said lottery funds aren't a reliable source of income.
"We see a state lottery as a regressive tax that encourages state government to prey on its poorest citizens," added executive director David Mills.
"Research shows that state lotteries in nearly every state result in people of lower incomes spending a much greater percentage of their income on lottery tickets," he said. "What lotteries do is they take away money that poor people would normally spend on the necessities of life."