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N.C. Lottery debate: You can bet both sides will be passionate

Insider BuzzInsider Buzz: N.C. Lottery debate: You can bet both sides will be passionate

Aside from what it might cost to put together, or to pay out prizes, or what it's social costs might be, there is much more interesting question right now: How much would it cost North Carolinians to debate a state lottery?

The question of whether this state ought to have a lottery is sleeping right now. And it will be months before even the prospect of waking it will come. Like a lot of political trends in North Carolina, it certainly won't be resolved this year, or next, but the state draws closer every year to when it will settle the issue.

When that moment comes, the state's voters, lawmakers, opinion shapers and researchers ought to be prepared for one great knockdown fight.

Randy Bobbitt, a communications studies professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, has been studying how the lottery debate has gone on in other states.

"Lottery campaigns are typically nastier than races involving candidates," he said. "They have it all - the half-truths, the lying and the mudslinging."

Nothing like that is expected at a public forum on a North Carolina lottery scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at UNCW's Warwick Center. The dvent is free.

"The North Carolina Lottery: Is that the ticket?" will feature speakers on several sides of the issue. The program includes time to take questions from the audience, Dr. Bobbitt said.

Dr. Bobbitt has been analyzing how different sides in the lottery issue seek to persuade voters. He's titled a working paper he's written on the topic "Lottery Wars." Since 1989, the lottery debate in the country has been focused on the Southeast.

Long-held moral and church traditions in the Southeast have made for some epic lottery battles. By contrast, most of the Northeastern states adopted lotteries decades ago and brought them into state cultures where some kinds of gambling, such as horse racing, had been long accepted.

The last fight over a lottery was in Tennessee. The lottery recently adopted in Tennessee saw large, sophisticated campaigns on both sides, Dr. Bobbitt said.

At one interesting moment in the public debate, a secret strategy document of forces against a state lottery was revealed. Voters, the plan argued, would be most successfully persuaded by appeals to their basic distrust of elected officials. In the end, voters approved the Tennessee lottery.

This year, 39 states have official lotteries. North Carolina is encircled by states with lotteries, a fact that some pro-lottery forces have used to add pressure to lawmakers.

But as Dr. Bobbitt has discovered, in the lottery debate there are plenty of arguments.

When those against a lottery stress moral arguments, the pro side responds that citizens ought choose for themselves.

When pro forces point out that lottery proceeds would be used to fund education - which has wide support and interest - the antis point to research that lottery proceeds in other states don't always increase the total amount of money spent on schools.

Undecided voters are stuck in the dynamic tension of the arguments and await one that will convince them one way or another.

That dynamic makes lottery rhetoric like two other hotly debated social issues: abortion and gun control.

"There are two sides, at the extremes, who've made up their minds," Dr. Bobbitt said. "They then have to persuade the middle to join them to assemble some kind of majority."

There is a good panel confirmed for Thursday's forum.

On the pro-lottery side will be state Rep. Bernard Allen, a Democrat from Raleigh, former Hunt administration official Gardner M. Payne and Candace Gauthier, a UNCW ethicist. Speaking against will be Don Carrington of the John Locke Foundation, John L. Rustin of the N.C. Family Policy Council and the Rev. Michael Queen, pastor of Wilmington's First Baptist Church.

Star News Online

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