The speaker of the North Carolina House pledged this weekend to hold a vote on a bill that would create a state lottery to fund education. The issue last came up in the House in 2002, when the opposition defeated a lottery referendum bill by a 69-50 margin.
An informal survey of local Charlotte residents revealed divided support for the issue. Lottery players say they would prefer to spend their money in state, while opponents say a lottery is potentially harmful for people who are financially stressed.
"I'm trying to win some money," Kannapolis resident Angela Ford said Sunday as she stood in line at the Lottery Supercenter on Carowinds Boulevard in South Carolina.
Like so many North Carolinians, Ford makes frequent trips out of the state to buy scratch tickets and play Powerball. A chance to play closer to home in Kannapolis would save her time and money.
"That would save lots and lots of gas," she said.
It would also save the state money residents who previously spent their money on South Carolina's Education Lottery would be spending that money in the state if North Carolina had a lottery.
North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black said he has assured Gov. Mike Easley, who is a longtime supporter of a lottery, that a vote will be held.
"That's my decision," Black said. "There will be a vote."
And that vote will come within five weeks because of its significance to the state's budget. Should it pass, Black said the revenue will help fund education in North Carolina.
The change could be dramatic, as Black estimates at least $300 million a year flows out of state to Virginia and South Carolina.
"If you think lottery is a sin, I think it is a sin to not educate children," he said. "If we're not doing a good enough job educating our children, and if we don't have the political will to raise the resources any other way, we're going to have to have those resources for education
But even avid players admit the lotto isn't all aces. Often times, it is the folks with the least cash who are taking all the risk.
"The only down side (to a lottery) is somebody might get too active and spend too much money," said Charlotte resident Donald Perry. "But if you don't play, you can't win."
If the House passes the lottery, Black predicts there is potential for state coffers to scratch out $500 million. If it doesn't pass, Black said the sacrifice could come as the inability to reduce class sizes and build new schools.
"We can't afford to lose that money out of our state," he said. "We need it for our education purposes."
Black also said that even if the lottery referendum had passed in 2002, it would have been considered unconstitutional with an up and down vote from lawmakers.