The proposal for a North Carolina lottery — which seemed headed for passage a month ago — is in jeopardy.
Senate leader Marc Basnight said Tuesday that supporters did not yet have enough votes to pass the lottery in the Senate and that it was unclear whether they could get those votes before the legislature adjourns for the year.
"It's a flip of the coin," Basnight said in an interview.
Although the Democratic leadership supports a lottery, five Democratic senators are staked out in opposition. That has left party leaders scrambling to persuade one of the five — or one Republican — to support a lottery. In the case of a tie, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, a lottery supporter, would cast the tie-breaker.
Democrats hold a 29-21 margin in the Senate. But Republican leader Phil Berger, an Eden attorney, said the Senate GOP caucus, which will meet today on the issue, seems solidly opposed to a lottery.
"The understanding I've had all along is that there were no Republicans who would vote for it," he said.
The problems for the lottery come toward the end of an especially convoluted legislative process.
The House passed a lottery proposal 61-59 in April. The Senate then inserted lottery language into the $17 billion state budget bill. But even if both the House and Senate approve the budget, the Senate still must approve the House lottery bill for the lottery to become a reality in North Carolina.
Five Democratic senators say they oppose the lottery: Janet Cowell of Raleigh, Ellie Kinnaird of Carrboro, Charlie Albertson of Beulaville, Dan Clodfelter of Charlotte and Martin Nesbitt of Asheville.
"I think it's going to be a tough vote," Cowell said. "Right now, I don't think they have got the votes."
The opponents said they are against a lottery because it wrongly encourages people to gamble, and because it would be an unsteady source of state revenue.
"I think it's bad public policy," said Kinnaird, a lawyer and former Carrboro mayor. "They haven't provided any gambling addiction money or therapy. These are out-of-state corporations [operating the lottery], so the money goes out of state. It doesn't create jobs except for a few convenience stores. There is going to be advertising, which is going to be ugly and ubiquitous."
Basnight, a Manteo restaurant owner, said he supports the lottery because of the money it can provide for public education, and because people are already playing lotteries in surrounding states. He said lotteries have done little damage in other states.
The lottery proceeds would be split three ways: 50 percent for reducing class sizes and for pre-kindergarten learning, 40 percent for school construction and 10 percent for college scholarships.
Basnight said the lottery is one of those issues in which people hold deep-seated convictions.
"When you hear the voices of principle," Basnight said, "you can't go up against those."
He cited Albertson, 73, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official and country singer, who represents a conservative-leaning district in Lenoir, Sampson and Duplin counties.
"Charlie Albertson feels strongly that we shouldn't have a lottery," Basnight said. "I'm not one to tell Charlie: 'Charlie, I've done everything you ever asked me to do. I'm a supporter of you and your beliefs and try to see that your community grows and has a rightful chance in the prosperity of this state and appointing you to the [committee] chair that you want to be and see that you remain there.'
"Carry all of that in, and let that weigh on Charlie — no, I'm not going to do that."