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The Lottery, Act 2: It's not over until it's over

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, April 11, 2005

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"So, the lottery passed the House. When can we buy our tickets?"

Some people were asking this question last week after the North Carolina House passed a bill that would establish a state run lottery. The vote was 61 for and 59 against. Folks who watch North Carolina politics give the political skills of House Speaker Jim Black credit for the result. Somehow, he gained the support of several legislators who had previously opposed the lottery.

The lottery may be headed towards the finish line, but don't bet all your money on it ---not yet.

He did something else that was critical. Until this year, when the legislature had considered the lottery question, it was to be subject to a referendum-and would only go into effect after the voters approved it.

The referendum led some House members to try to "have it both ways" (both opposing and supporting the lottery) by saying something like this: "I oppose the lottery, but I think the people should have the right to decide for themselves."

Now some of these House members who were previously "against the lottery personally" have to explain their "double switch"-- why they reversed their positions on both counts. First, they now support the lottery. Second, they now no longer think the people should have the right to decide for themselves.

Giving credit to the political skills of Speaker Black, is the lottery a done deal?

Of course, it has to pass the Senate. But since the Senate leadership has always been more friendly to the lottery concept, some people say the hard work has already been done and that it is now just a matter of time.

Some observers are reminding us that in politics, you don't declare victory until it is really over. They caution the lottery proponents not to pop the champagne bottle for a little while yet.

Here are several bumps in the road:

1. Will the Senate pass a lottery bill? Probably, but it is not a certainty.

Some early reports have five Democrats and all 21 Republican senators lined up against the lottery, if the vote were held today. If these reports are accurate, the 26 votes against the lottery would defeat it in the Senate.

Also, some senators are counted as lottery supporters because they previously supported a lottery referendum, while insisting that they were against the lottery personally. Perhaps some senators will have more trouble than their House counterparts making the "double switch" in their lottery position.

Nevertheless, many still think that the Senate will pass a lottery bill if Senate leader Marc Basnight pushes the bill. Republican minority leader, Phil Berger opposes the lottery. But he recognizes the power of Basnight's leadership. Berger says, "I suspect the leadership will get what it wants."

2. Will the Senate pass the House's lottery bill without making changes? Not likely.

Remember, a lottery bill will not become law until the House and the Senate pass exactly the same bill. The Senate will have its own ideas about how to divide up the lottery proceeds and how the lottery should be run.

3. Assuming the Senate changes the House bill, can Speaker Black persuade the House to agree to the Senate changes? Can he re-create his narrow victory margin? It may be tough a job, even for the talented Black.

Any change the Senate might make in the bill could undercut a reason that persuaded one of the House members to vote for the lottery.

It will be a delicate balance for the Senate and the House to come up with one bill that will pass both houses.

There is a larger problem for the lottery supporters.

During the next few weeks, the spotlight will shine on the House lottery bill. Critics will try to show its flaws and weaknesses. The lottery, as designed, won't raise as much money as projected, some will say.

Others will point out that because most of the funds are directed to specific purposes, there will be very little money from the lottery to help solve the state's projected budget deficit.

Under the bright light of examination, some of the lottery's seeming magic funding for every need will melt away.

At the same time, some reluctant supporters of the lottery will hear from their friends at businesses, civic clubs and churches the kinds of questions that will prompt them to rethink their current positions.

The lottery may be headed towards the finish line, but don't bet all your money on it ---not yet.


D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which returns to the air on Sunday, April 3, at 5:00 p.m. with guest Orin Starn, author of "Ishi's Brain."

Upcoming programs:

April 17: Orin Starn, Ishi's Brain

April 24: Karen Barker, Sweet Stuff

May 1: Dr. Gerald Bell, The Carolina Way

May 8: BJ Mountford, Bloodlines of Shackleford Banks

Related info:
Our State Magazine
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The Lottery, Act 2: It's not over until it's over

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