A group of high-profile lottery opponents vowed Wednesday to fight efforts to bring scratch-off tickets and numbers games to North Carolina.
As opponents gathered in the Legislative Building in Raleigh to voice opposition, members of a special House committee on the lottery filed the bill that they will use to craft a state lottery.
The work on that bill, which does not yet include details of how a lottery would be set up, is set to be finished by April 11.
The opponents said they were working one by one with House members to convince them that the lottery is a bad idea.
Those who spoke out Wednesday included WRAL-TV owner Jim Goodmon; Jim Royston, executive director of the Baptist state convention; Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin, a recovering gambling addict; and former gubernatorial candidate Chuck Neely.
Gathering the support of millions
Royston said that his organization includes 1.2 million members in 4,011 congregations across the state.
"I cannot speak for all of them, but I intend to speak to them," Royston said.
Royston said he is glad that North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast without a lottery.
"If quality education is the right of every boy and girl in North Carolina, then why in the world would we leave it to chance?" he asked.
Royston called a lottery the "first taste of sin" that could lead to widespread legal gambling in the state.
"I don't want my 12-year-old granddaughter down in China Grove ... being educated with lunch money from the poorest families," he said. "I'm for the neediest in our state. That's why I don't want them to be enticed to squander this week's grocery money."
Spending is issue
Neely, who heads a group called Citizens United Against the Lottery, said the most compelling reason for not having a lottery is the same reason supporters are pushing for it -- education.
Neely said a lottery would lead to less spending by counties on education. He also said it would lead to less support from voters for bond referendums to support schools.
And the state won't be able to count on the lottery money from year to year because it will fluctuate with playing habits, he said.
"It's going to be bad for education," he said. "The state is certainly financially pressed right now, but I argue that desperate times are not cause for bad policy."
The group also pointed yesterday to studies that show little improvement in education spending in many states with lotteries. They cited remarks from Jack O'Connell, the superintendent of California's schools, that the lottery there "has done more to hurt public education than almost anything."
Elaine Mejia, an analyst at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center, said that the $400 million a lottery might raise for the state doesn't close a $1.4 billion gap between the state's spending and the national average in education spending.
"You risk public perception shifting to think lottery money is taking care of education spending," Mejia said.
Though legislators say they want lottery money to go to education, "there is no assurance that we're going to increase the per-pupil expenditure on education," said Jim Goodmon, the president of Capitol Broadcasting Co. in Raleigh.
"So stop calling it an 'education' lottery," Goodmon said. "That's false advertising. You can't promise that we're going to increase educational spending."
We have to play, too
Supporters, including Gov. Mike Easley, say the lottery will provide extra money for education.
They say thousands of North Carolinians are supporting schools in neighboring states (all of which offer lotteries), and offering a lottery will keep the money in the state.
State agencies predict a lottery would generate $400 million to $500 million a year for the state, after expenses and winners' payouts.
Goodmon said he probably stands to benefit greatly from a lottery -- WRAL would reap a huge advertising windfall, he said.
But the state shouldn't spend millions promoting a game that most people will not win, he said.
"What we're going to get into is a television-station owner's dream. We're going to have to have a huge advertising campaign to convince people to play our lottery and not their lottery," he said.
Goodmon also said he doesn't understand the argument that, because North Carolinians play elsewhere, the state should start a lottery here.
"Does anybody go to the beach in Myrtle Beach?" he said. "I buy peaches in South Carolina. I've been to Williamsburg, [Va.]."
His point: Commerce between the states is natural -- and not a reason to begin a lottery.
Royston said the lottery "promotes lady luck rather than a work ethic."
Look at efficiency
And Ruffin, who recounted his own troubles with gambling, said a lottery is an inefficient way for the government to bring in money.
Supporters and opponents agree that about one-third of all the money brought in from a lottery will go to the state. The rest would be for prize payouts and administrative expenses.
"I hazard to say that there's not a county in North Carolina that would fund a nonprofit with that kind of overhead," Ruffin said.
Lottery will become more aggressive as player fatigue sets in
Black says he wants restrictions on advertising if the state does pass a lottery. But Chuck Neely said that such restrictions tend to disappear.
"I believe in the good intentions of legislators. But history shows that in every state where there have been advertising restrictions, they've been lifted," Neely said. "Anyone who's been around the General Assembly knows that the pressures to raise money are irresistible."
He said that the state can also be expected to add more addictive games - and even video lottery terminals - as "lottery fatigue" sets in and people play the games less.
Neely said he spoke at a gaming conference in New Orleans last year at which lottery officials from Delaware, Rhode Island and Georgia said that as players play less, lotteries should introduce more exciting games, and especially video terminals that are similar to video poker.
"When lottery outlets move to video-poker machines, our state will become one big casino, and we will have lost the very soul of North Carolina," Neely said.
The coalition of lottery opponents from both right and left in the political spectrum is lobbying legislators, and Neely said he remains confident that legislators will vote down a lottery.
Lottery backers say that with the state now surrounded by lotteries in neighboring states, conditions for a lottery in North Carolina are better than ever.
"I disagree," Neely said. "All God's children do head counts, and rest assured, we've done head counts."