Senate ponders lottery legislation

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 9, 2005

RALEIGH – Don’t dream of hitting the big time just yet.

In a 61-59 vote on Wednesday, the North Carolina House of Representatives narrowly passed a state-operated lottery from where the proceeds would be earmarked for education. However, there are two more hurdles to clear before state residents can make a mad rush to their favorite store in search of fortunes by playing a numbers game.

State House Bill #1023 now heads to the North Carolina Senate for approval. If it clears that legislative body, Gov. Mike Easley – who, since taking office in 2001, has made it clear he strongly supports the lottery – must sign it into law.

While the Senate has been kind to past efforts to establish a statewide lottery (voting favorably for one in 1989, 1991 and 1993), local State Senator Robert Holloman (D-Hertford) said Thursday that things are still &uot;up in the air&uot; in that legislative branch of government.

&uot;I feel the votes are there to pass it, but you just never know,&uot; said the Senator. &uot;We have opened discussions on the lottery, but nothing yet has been decided.&uot;

Holloman said he expects a special Senate committee will be appointed, by Monday at the earliest, to study the wording of the House bill.

&uot;The committee will take a close look at the bill,&uot; he said. &uot;They may propose some different spending options from what the House proposed, but the bottom line will remain that the proceeds will go towards educating our young people.&uot;

Holloman said he expects the Senate will make a decision in approximately 5-10 days. He would not comment on how he would cast his vote.

Meanwhile, the Roanoke-Chowan area’s two House of Representatives members – Howard Hunter Jr. (D-Hertford) and Michael Wray (D-Northampton) – voted Wednesday in favor of the lottery. Both said they favored the measure because they were upset over the fact that an estimated $300 million is leaving the state on an annual basis due to North Carolinians playing lotteries in Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

While the Senate ponders its decision, questions have surfaced how the lottery will be played. That has yet to be determined. The legislation passed on Wednesday by the House only approves for a lottery to begin. A nine-member lottery commission, who will be named once the bill is signed into law, will decide the actual games. It’s expected to take up to six months to implement a lottery.

House Bill #1023 did decree that the games may include instant lotteries, online games, games played on computer terminals and other games traditional to a lottery or that have been conducted by any other state-operated lottery.

The wording of the bill went on to reveal that winnings of $600 or less could be claimed immediately from the lottery game retailer. Those winning more than $600 in a game must claim their prizes from the lottery commission, which will be based in Raleigh.

However, if the winner of $600 or more from a lottery game owes outstanding debts to a state agency or is delinquent in paying state taxes, the lottery commission has the right to defer any part or all of those winnings in order to settle the debt or taxes.

After the expenses of running a lottery are paid, including 50 percent of all proceeds going to pay for the prizes, the remainder will be distributed for education. The Public School Building Capital Fund will receive the lion’s share (50 percent) of the remaining funds while 25 percent each will be dedicated to educational assistance programs and college scholarships.

Editor’s Note: Wednesday’s reported vote on the lottery from the House of Representatives was 62 &uot;yeas&uot; and 58 &uot;nays.&uot;

That changed to 61-59 when Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) said she pressed the wrong button the first time. She switched her vote from yes to no.