When North Carolina Governor Mike Easley leaves office, assessments of his tenure undoubtedly will touch on whether he brought North Carolina into the lottery fold.
He wants a game. He says this a lot.
Lawmakers from both major parties denied Easley's wish during his first term.
Easley, who won re-election last fall, has another four years to get a lotto.
But his window of opportunity could be much smaller since he cannot run for a third consecutive term and arguably right now is at the peak of his political power.
"If he's going to take a chance on it, this is the time to do it," said Tim Vercellotti, an Elon University political science professor.
State Rep. Pricey Harrison could be among those lawmakers who give Easley a lift. She said that despite her past opposition to a game, she may side with the governor -- so long as the bill before her restricts money for advertising the operation and dedicates profits to education.
"There's nothing that I like about the lottery," said Harrison, D-Guilford, a freshman legislator.
"I hate it. I think it's terrible public policy.
"But all other states that border us have it," she said in an interview Thursday.
Geography is a main component in Easley's lottery appeal: North Carolinians only need to cross the state line to spend their money on other lotteries -- money that would be better used at home to improve public schools.
Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia all run their own games.
"Our people are playing the lottery," Easley said Feb. 21 in his State of the State address. "We just need to decide which schools we should fund, other states' or ours. I'm for funding our schools."
Easley has recommended devoting lottery revenue to reduce class sizes, expand his More At Four prekindergarten program and build schools.
The governor's office estimates a lottery would reap between $450 million and $500 million a year for the state treasury.
His proposed fiscal 2005-06 budget, which begins July 1, is $16.9 billion.
House may vote soon
The General Assembly has no deadline for when its yearly session must end. Lawmakers could hold off debating this matter for many months, if they tackle it at all.
House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, signaled last week that he hopes to address the lottery question sooner rather than later.
Black's chamber has been the graveyard for lottery bills.
Past efforts have called for permitting the public to vote on whether North Carolina should create a game. Critics contend a referendum violates the state constitution.
No referendum this session, Black said. Instead, lawmakers could be asked before the end of next month simply to vote for or against a lottery.
A direct vote goes against what Rep. Maggie Jeffus has said she is willing to support.
"I'd have to think about that because I've always said there needs to be a referendum," said Jeffus, D-Guilford. "It's a very controversial issue. ... I'd very much like to see how the numbers fall out, to see if a majority of the people want it."
Among other Guilford lawmakers, Democratic Rep. Earl Jones is a staunch lottery backer. Rep. Alma Adams, another Democrat, has voiced previous support for holding a referendum.
The county's two Republican representatives -- John Blust and Laura Wiley -- said they oppose a lottery.
"I have a real problem with a state government promoting gambling, and that's what a lottery is," Wiley said.
The Senate, traditionally more receptive to a lottery, has stood to the side as it waited for the House to act.
In 2002, a bill came up for a vote that would have put the matter to a referendum. Democrats and Republicans in the House teamed up to kill the measure 69-50.
For the next two years, Black served as co-speaker with Republican Richard Morgan. Under that power-sharing arrangement, Morgan was able to block lottery bills from coming up.
Morgan, R-Moore, no longer holds his post, removing an obstacle for the governor.
In lotto minority
Easley clearly believes he has popular will on his side. Polls show that about two-thirds of North Carolinians back a lottery.
Maybe they feel left out. Few states have refrained from jumping into the lotto club.
New Hampshire created its game in 1964 to kick off the modern lottery era.
Virginia launched a lottery in 1988. Georgia came along five years later, thanks to a push by its governor, Zell Miller.
South Carolina and Tennessee began lotteries this decade.
When Oklahomans voted last fall to start a game, only eight states besides North Carolina were left as lottery-free zones. They are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.
Wiley said she did not feel pressured to change her mind based on the fact that most other states conduct lotteries.
"Everyone has probably heard from their parents, 'If everyone jumps off the bridge, does that mean you will too?' " she said.
"That is not an argument that sways me."