The lottery is now law in North Carolina, but not even the governor is willing to bet publicly on when the games will begin.
A jubilant Gov. Mike Easley waited just a day after the Senate approved the lottery bill to make it law. His signature capped two decades of effort to bring a lottery to North Carolina, the only state on the East Coast without a game. Easley had pushed lawmakers since his first campaign for governor in 2000 to relent so the state could generate money for its education needs.
He had to rely on the state's second-ranking politician to finally make it happen. Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, the Senate's presiding officer, cast a rare tie-breaking vote Tuesday to get the lottery bill to his desk. The House approved the bill in April by just two votes.
At the bill signing ceremony Wednesday, Easley would not say when he believed ticket sales would start, but he referenced South Carolina as an example of how quickly the process can move. That state passed its lottery bill in June 2001 and began selling scratch-off tickets the following January. The South Carolina lottery began a numbers game that March, lottery director Ernie Passailaigue said.
"Everybody is trying to get faster at this," said Tom Shaheen, president of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries and chief executive of the New Mexico lottery.
A lottery now can probably start within 4 1/2 months after the appointment of a lottery director, he said. Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand said he believes scratch-off tickets could be sold in six to seven months.
First, though, a nine-member lottery commission must be established. Easley, House Speaker Jim Black and Senate leader Marc Basnight will make the appointments.
Black said that he hoped to appoint his two members to the Lottery Commission within a week.
"I've had about 10 calls from people expressing interest in that commission," Black said, declining to name his choices.
Easley estimated the lottery ultimately would bring in $500 million a year for education programs. The law directs the money be spent on public school construction, college scholarships, class-size reduction and preschool programs.
"This is an historic day in North Carolina," he said during the bill signing ceremony attended by dozens of lottery supporters, legislative leaders and teachers. "The education lottery makes education progress that is sustainable so that we know those funds are there for these important programs as we move forward."
Easley's top budget adviser, Dan Gerlach, estimated the lottery will generate $420 million in the fiscal year starting next June 30.
Easley said he would talk to lawmakers about a possible constitutional amendment that would require that money raised by the lottery be dedicated primarily for education.
Opponents of the lottery, however, said Wednesday they haven't give up their fight against state-run gambling in North Carolina and are reviewing their legal options. Some senators complained Tuesday that constitutional rules require bills to be considered on two separate days by either the House or the Senate, which didn't happen with the lottery.
"There are questions that we are looking into," said John Rustin with the North Carolina Family Policy Council.