Numbers games coming sooner than expected because of demand
October will be a busy month for the N.C. Education Lottery.
That's when the state will debut Pick 3 and 5 games and plans to start selling a controversial scratch-off game featuring the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes.
The pick-numbers games are coming a little sooner than expected because of high demand from players and retailers, state lottery director Tom Shaheen said. The N.C. lottery started just five months ago.
Carolina Pick 3, with prizes ranging from $160 to $500, begins Oct. 6. Carolina Cash 5, which offers a top prize of at least $50,000, starts Oct. 27. Drawings will be held nightly at 11 p.m.
Even before going on sale, the Hurricanes scratch-off tickets have raised criticism about whether the game could lure children to play. The game-maker is also tied to an ongoing political scandal in Raleigh.
The state is finalizing a contract for the game owned by a subsidiary of Scientific Games, which sought the contract to run the lottery. The lottery contract eventually went to a competitor, GTECH.
A former Scientific Games consultant was found guilty last week in Raleigh to unregistered lobbying, while a lobbyist for the company also has been charged in connection with violating N.C. lobbying laws. Another former contractor was indicted in May by a federal grand jury for failing to disclose $229,000 in payments from Scientific Games before he joined the N.C. lottery commission.
"I think it's a weird a thing for the state to do," said Bob Hall, research director for watchdog group Democracy North Carolina. "The company is still under a cloud. It seems improper to hand them money."
Lottery commission chairman Charles Sanders told the Observer that officials had no other choice in order to get a Hurricanes game in time for the start of the hockey season. Scientific Games has an exclusive contract with National Hockey League teams for lottery tickets.
"Scientific Games has not been convicted of anything," Sanders said.
Shaheen said the ties to Scientific Games are "not a problem. They are good at what they do."
Hall said state lottery officials should have taken a pass rather than deal with Scientific Games: "They should use their imagination and do something different."
Meanwhile, a state legislator said he's concerned about the message sent to kids by using the family-friendly Hurricanes logo.
"It looks like we're educating a future generation of lottery players," said state Sen. N.C. Sen. Eddie Goodall, a Republican from Weddington.
N.C. lottery officials said other states have sold sports-themed tickets without problems. South Carolina sold NASCAR scratch-off tickets last year. The games can attract players who don't normally buy lottery tickets but are not aimed at children, lottery officials said.
Prizes in the Hurricanes game would include cash as well as memorabilia. The game would be the state's first using commercial branding.
"It's a perfectly reasonable thing to do," Sanders said.
North Carolina has sold nearly $350 million in scratch-off and Powerball tickets since the lottery was launched in late March. About 35 percent, or $122 million, is earmarked for education.