Internet-savvy speculators have bought all the logical Web addresses for North Carolina's lottery, leaving the state in a bind as it looks for a smooth, easy way to get out information on the games.
Dan Gerlach, an adviser to Gov. Mike Easley, said state officials have looked for an easy-to-remember name for the lottery's online home, but they're all gone. "All the permutations we could think of," he told the lottery commissioners at their inaugural meeting this month.
Charles Hayworth of Winston-Salem is one of the name holders, and he might have the best odds of cashing in -- he locked up www.nclottery.com in 1998.
"I'd sure like to chat with them," said Hayworth, who is 60 and owns a Web hosting business. "I'm open. I'm not out to high-pressure anybody, but I'll make them an offer, or they can come to me and make me an offer."
Registering a Web domain is easy. Anyone can visit one of dozens of registrars on the Internet, plug in a name and, if it's available, buy it for as little as $6.95 a year. These days, though, most common names are long gone.
Even the domain that matches the name of the state's new lottery -- nceducationlottery.com -- is taken, owned by Shane Sigmon of Greenville, S.C. He could not be reached.
Also locked up are nclotto.com, northcarolinalottery.com, tarheellottery.com, nclottery.net, nclottery.org, and many others. Some of those sites already have information posted.
Players won't be able to buy tickets through the state's Web site, but it will be a prime source for checking the correct numbers and getting other details on the games.
State lottery commissioners indicated in their first meeting last week that they want an easy-to-use name.
In the meantime, the state has set up a site, at least temporarily, at a more cumbersome address: www.lottery.nc.gov.
A few states, including Missouri and Minnesota, use a similar, more bulky type of government-version address for their lottos.
A quick check shows that nclottery.gov is apparently not taken.
Still, most states opt for a smoother name ending in the much-used '.com' suffix, such as ohiolottery.com or Indiana's hoosierlottery.com. Most lottery sites in the United States use the state's abbreviation followed by the word "lottery."
It's not clear how much North Carolina would have to pay to get a common Web site, but officials have said they'd prefer to have one once the games begin within a year.
Prices on the Web domain market vary widely, with domains selling for as little as $10 or as much as $750,000. Last month, livelobsters.com sold for $5,000, for example, and cheaptickets.com went for $10,000.
Federal law gives companies and other parties, such as states, leverage to prevent "cyber-squatters" from buying sites and holding them hostage to make a quick buck.
The law is aimed at people who have "a bad faith intent to profit" from a trademark or similar title, and the remedy is to transfer the domain to its rightful owner.
Two businessmen in Tennessee, for example, owned www.tnlottery.com and asked $25,000 for it as officials started a lottery. But a Tennessee lottery spokeswoman said the state, which had started out with a longer domain name, secured the common one in legal arbitration without paying the men anything.
South Carolina ended up in court with a Texas college student who held several common domain versions and was demanding a six-figure settlement not to pepper the sites with pornography. In the end, the state bought and uses a domain the student didn't own: sceducationlottery.com.
Some North Carolina domain holders might keep their sites and try to attract traffic from unwitting searchers.
Hayworth said Tuesday that's what he'll do if the state settles on an address other than nclottery.com.
He said his site is getting plenty of visits, and ads there are bringing in several hundred dollars a month.
But he also acknowledged headaches. Thirty to 50 people a day e-mail him looking for information about the lottery, he said.
"For the most part," Hayworth said, "they want me to give them a lottery job, or it's a retailer looking for me to set them up to sell tickets. Of course, I can't do that."
Brita Penttila, 47, of Holly Springs saw that the lottery was headed toward approval this year and went hunting for domains.
She snagged thenclottery.com and has put information on it in just the past week.
Penttila, an Internet technology instructor at Wake Technical Community College, said she might make money off ads.
And if the state comes calling?
"Oh, I'll most likely listen," she said. "It'll all depend on the price."