North Carolina's state lottery would be declared illegal and work on the game would stop if a lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court on Thursday is successful.
The suit claims the House and Senate circumvented requirements set forth in the state constitution when members of both houses voted on the lottery law this year.
The N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, a Raleigh-based group that sued to stop state economic incentive payments to Dell, filed the lottery suit on behalf of several clients, including Rep. Paul Stam, a Wake County Republican, and the conservative-leaning N.C. Family Policy Council.
Robert Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice and the institute's director, said the suit focused on the procedure used to create the lottery, not the ethical debate over creating a state-run numbers game.
The courts will have to decide whether the lottery is a "revenue bill," a legal term used to describe legislation that raises and spends tax money.
As laid out by the state constitution, the final hurdles for a revenue bill to pass either the House or the Senate are two recorded votes on two separate days. That didn't happen in the case of the lottery. Instead, the House in April and the Senate in August altered their procedures to take both votes on the same day.
Lottery proponents argue that because buying lottery tickets is voluntary, it is not a tax and therefore not a revenue bill as described by the constitution.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Easley confirmed that his office received the lawsuit but declined to comment further because it involved pending litigation.
Members of the N.C. Lottery Commission were also named in the complaint, but they said Thursday that the court action would not derail their plans to get tickets on store shelves by April 5.
"That's not our department," Chairman Charles Sanders said during a morning teleconference with reporters. "We're going to proceed as if nothing's going to hinder the progress."
Linda Carlisle, a lottery commissioner from Greensboro, said later in the day that the commission was not even formed at the time the General Assembly was passing the lottery legislation.
"We've been given a mandate and we're proceeding with that mandate," Carlisle said. "I think it would be ill-advised to suddenly stop this process."
But those who opposed the lottery bill's passage said they hope the lawsuit will validate something they have been complaining about for months.
"I thought they did have to read it on a third day," said Rep. Laura Wiley, a High Point Republican who is serving her first term. "I do think it was rammed through."
The lottery passed by slim margins in both chambers. The vote was 61-59 in the House, and a Senate tie had to be broken by Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue.
Holding together the fragile coalitions that passed the lottery to face another vote may have seemed too difficult to lottery backers.
"When a vote is that close, things happen overnight," Wiley said. If just one member in either chamber had been given an opportunity and switched his vote on the second day, the game would have failed.
No date is set for a hearing in the case.
In other lottery-related news, the lottery commission gave Director Tom Shaheen authority to begin officially seeking vendors next week.
Also, House Speaker Jim Black appointed Max Cogburn Jr., of Asheville, to the lottery commission.