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Let the games begin

History will be made throughout the state on Thursday.

After years of effort, North Carolina becomes the 42nd state in the nation to offer games of chance when more than 5,000 retailers across the Tar Heel State begin selling “scratch-off” tickets on March 30.

Billed as the North Carolina Education Lottery (NCEL), 35 percent of the total proceeds are earmarked for education programs in the state.

“There are many people working very hard behind the scenes in such areas as administration, finance, sales and computers to help raise money for education and make this historical event happen,” Tom Shaheen, NCEL executive director, said.

To date, contractors for the NCEL have installed more than 5,000 ticket terminals in businesses across the state. Shaheen said installations will continue down to the last minute. Meantime, he said approximately 300 retailers are going through training every day. Retailers that do not complete the training will not be able to sell tickets until they have done so.

To date, a combined 59 NCEL retailers are located in Bertie, Gates, Hertford and Northampton counties. (See list, page 7A.)

The first series of tickets are ready to deliver to retail locations statewide. Those “scratch-off” games include BlackJack ($2 per ticket with prize amounts from $2 to $21,000), Tic Tac Toe ($1 per ticket with prizes ranging between $1 and $5,000), Carolina Cash ($5 per ticket with prizes between $10 and $100,000) and North Carolina Scenes ($1 per ticket, prizes ranging from $2 to $5,000).

Winning tickets can be redeemed in a number of ways.

Prizes with values less than $600 (including free tickets) can be collected at any lottery retail outlet or regional office.

Winning entries with values between $600 and $99,999.99 must be claimed at the NCEL headquarters in Raleigh or one of the five regional offices. The northeastern North Carolina regional office is located at 2790 Dickerson Ave., Suite A in Greenville.

Prizes of $100,000 or more must be claimed in person at the NCEL headquarters at 2100 Yonkers Road, Raleigh.

For all prizes $600 and above, a photo I.D. and proof of a Social Security number is required.

Prize winnings are subject to state and federal taxes.

According to NCLE officials, North Carolina is expected to join 28 other states in offering a Power Ball lotto effective May 30.

Other games are scheduled to be up and running later this year.

The General Assembly estimates that $425 million will be produced by the Education Lottery for education purposes in the 2006-07 fiscal year. The net proceeds of education flow as follows:

Five percent goes to the Education Lottery Reserve Fund to be used when lottery proceeds fall short of target. The Reserve Fund may not exceed $50 million.

Fifty percent of the total remainder shall be used for reduction of class size ratios in early grades to 18 children per teacher and for prekindergarten programs for at-risk four year olds who would not otherwise be served in high-quality settings.

Forty percent of the total remainder shall be used for school construction. Roughly 65 percent of this total shall be distributed to each county based on total school enrollment. The remaining 35 percent of this total shall be distributed to each county with average effective county property tax rates above the state average based on total school enrollment.

Ten percent of the total remainder shall be used for college scholarships for students who qualify for the federal Pell Grant. These scholarships can be used at North Carolina public and private universities and community colleges.

The NCEL also has been working with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on plans for the state’s responsible gambling program. To coincide with the launch of ticket sales, information about the program will be published on posters and brochures. The gambling help line toll free number will also be available on the back of all Education Lottery tickets.

“We will be focused on prevention, education and outreach,” Flo Stein, chief of community policy management, Department of Health & Human Services, said. “In other states, which we expect will be the case here, the lottery is considered low risk for gambling problems. Those that have started lotteries in recent years have seen a very low impact from the lottery on existing gambling issues.”

For additional information about the N.C. Education Lottery, visit its website at www.lottery.nc.gov, or call 919/715-6886 (71-LOTTO).