If polls show over and over that two-thirds of North Carolinians support a state lottery, then why haven't legislators already adopted one?
It is because what polls don't show is the intensity with which opponents fight a lottery and the fear that that prompts in some legislators - particularly those from swing districts.
"They're the people who will come after you," said Rep. Dewey Hill, D-Columbus, who recently switched his position to support a lottery. "They will remember, and they'll come after you."
Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee, a member of the committee crafting a lottery proposal to go to the House floor in the coming week, said that 80 percent of the lottery-related calls and e-mail that he is getting right now come from opponents.
"We're getting a lot of calls, and right now it's all anti-lottery," West said. "We're hearing from the people who are all fired up about it. I'm not sure the people who support the lottery are as adamantly for it as the ones who are agin' it are adamantly agin' it."
Though most members of the lottery committee that House Speaker Jim Black appointed last week are clearly supporters, West won't say how he intends to vote.
He said he wants assurances that the $400 million a year that the state is projected to get from a lottery won't go simply to replace existing education spending.
"How they set it up and how they assure me it will be set up in the future is going to be huge," he said. "I can be against that bill as easy as I can be for it.... If the next legislature comes along and tears it apart, we're just butting our heads against the wall. I can't support that."
Lottery backers, of course, say that with the state now surrounded by lotteries, there is more support for a lottery in North Carolina than ever.
Hill, who owns a chain of grocery and convenience stores near the South Carolina border, says he changed his position because of the North Carolina license plates that he sees at South Carolina stores that sell lottery tickets.
"It's not only the lottery tickets - they buy more of everything," he said.
An Elon University poll last month found that 69 percent of North Carolinians surveyed said they support a lottery, and 37 percent said they had bought a lottery ticket in a neighboring state in the past year. A similar poll in March 2003 found that 68 percent of North Carolinians support a lottery.
There is little data measuring the intensity of commitment of lottery supporters and opponents, though. But researchers, pollsters and legislators tend to agree that opponents are more likely to take it out on a legislator who votes for a lottery than supporters are on a legislator who votes against it.
That perceived difference in commitment helps explain legislators' historical reluctance to approve a lottery.
"It's like the abortion issue, in that opponents of lotteries feel so strongly that they might vote against a legislator who voted for it on the basis of that vote alone," said Ran Coble, the executive director of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. "Whereas for supporters, it is one consideration among many."
In a state that often teeters between Democratic and Republican control, opponents don't hesitate to let legislators know that there could be retribution if they vote for a lottery.
"I am opposed to the lottery and Christians are to take a stand," Lois Janet Bare of Jefferson wrote in a recent letter to the Journal. "I would never vote for a candidate who is in favor of a lottery."
One legislator - a lottery opponent who asked not be identified - put it this way: "The people who oppose the lottery will never forgive you if you vote for it. The people who are for the lottery will not hold it against you with the same ferocity if you vote against it.
"The people who are for the lottery - they're individuals. The people who are against the lottery - they're 700 members of the First Baptist Church," he said. "That's the way you have to calculate it politically. On Sunday morning, the preacher's going to get up and talk about it."
Jim McLaughlin, a Republican pollster from New York, conducted polls in a 1999 referendum where Alabama voters rejected a lottery, and he agrees that sentiment is stronger among lottery opponents.
"Literally, what happens with the opponents is God is telling them to go out and vote against this thing," McLaughlin said.
"One of the things you want to look at in the polling is not just whether 55 percent are for it, but the intensity," he said. "The intensity is usually on the antis' side of these things, and they usually are not movable."
Women are more likely to oppose a lottery than men are, and younger voters and Catholics - especially those who have moved to the state from lottery states - are more likely to support a lottery, McLaughlin said.
A soccer mom from suburban Cary or Apex might support a lottery, but "Who knows if she's going to go out on Election Day?" McLaughlin said.
"The folks that are against it, they will remember," he said. "Especially for Republicans, you could ignite a primary opponent by being for expanding gambling."
Mark Creech, the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, says that even though they are outnumbered, conservative evangelicals in his group are "very zealous" about keeping a lottery out of the state.
"They will write letters, e-mail, make phone calls. They will visit their legislators personally," Creech said, standing outside the Legislative Building himself on Thursday. "A lottery is a fundamental issue of moral import with them. It's not a negotiable issue."
Though polls show that most voters support a lottery, "A good leader has to look at the situation and say, 'Who do I not want to offend here?'" Creech said. "It's not always about the majority. It's about who keeps me in office, or what alliances I need to stay intact to stay in office."
Tim Vercellotti isn't so sure about the depth of support for a lottery, either.
Vercellotti, the assistant professor of political science who directs the Elon poll, points to results last October from a poll that asked residents how important candidates' stances were on various issues in the race for governor.
Although 91 percent said that a candidate's stance on creating jobs was important or very important, 90 percent said that the stance on affordable health care was important and 67 percent said that the stance on tax cuts was important, just 52 percent said that a candidate's stance on a state lottery was important or very important.
"It says that support is a mile wide and not so deep," Vercellotti said.
After the state House voted on a proposal for a lottery referendum in September 2002, the vote apparently didn't cause repercussions for many legislators, Vercellotti said.
"That was about six weeks before the election, and it wasn't on anyone's radar," he said.
Then again, House members voted down the lottery in that vote, 50-69.