State News

Supreme Court weighs legality of state lottery

Posted September 8, 2008
Updated September 9, 2008

— The North Carolina Supreme Court must decide whether lawmakers violated the state constitution when they approved the state lottery in 2005.

Justices heard oral arguments Monday in a lawsuit filed by the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, which is headed by former Justice Robert Orr.

Orr told justices that a lottery ticket contains an inherent tax and must be approved like a state tax as required by the constitution. He said the bill should have been voted on twice by the House and Senate on two different days because lottery proceeds generate money for public education.

"The state concedes that the lottery funds go to general government services – the education of students in North Carolina," Orr said. "We can't allow political expediency to overrule very specific provisions that our state constitution requires."

State attorney Norma Harrell disagreed, arguing that the lottery commission is merely a vendor and that purchasing a lottery ticket is voluntary.

"No tax is necessarily paid by a person who buys a lottery ticket," Harrell said. "You get a direct benefit as a result of buying a lottery ticket."

Justices sharply questioned Harrell's arguments.

"This legislation seems to have been pushed through without getting into policy or political considerations," Justice Edward Thomas Brady said.

A divided state Court of Appeals upheld the lottery's legality in March.

Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin recused himself from hearing the case – he has worked on a case with a lawyer close to Orr's group – which means that the Court of Appeals decision would stand if the high court winds up with a 3-3 split.

There's no timeline on when the justices will rule.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • whatusay Sep 9, 2008 might as well be betting on the odds of NC being hit by an earthquake. What a waste. And, even after a pic-3 or pic-5 has been won, the state still continues selling the tickets knowing that no one can possibly win again..Thousands on thousands of dollars received, knowing that nothing will be paid out. And the state is laughing at the idiots buying a worthless piece of paper. This is the way our government works. They could care less about the citizens, they just want your money.

  • shep8851 Sep 9, 2008

    whatusay: You are correct--when you buy a lottery ticket--you get nothing. Well, when you buy life insurance--chances are you will never personally get anything. When you buy a marriage license, you get--well, lets not go further with this one. When you buy a drivers license, you get the piece of plastic with your picture on it--but nothing else. At least the lottery ticket holds out the possibility of getting something you didn't have before.

  • whatusay Sep 9, 2008 can't eat a lottery ticket. When you buy cookies you are getting something for your money. Whey you buy a lottery ticket you get nothing.

  • whatusay Sep 9, 2008

    The NC lottery is a joke. Most of the income goes to administration, bonuses, and raises for the "in crowd" who run it.

  • Pilot2B Sep 9, 2008

    Here is something to think about.
    What if the state started selling cookies, donuts, M&Ms (or any product) to raise money for education? Is that a tax?

    If not, how is the lottery any different? We are choosing to buy an item (the lottery ticket). In the lottery's case, there is a chance (albeit small) that we can redeem the ticket for money.

    If we consider the lottery ticket as a product (like a cookie, etc), then it is not a tax.

    A tax is normally defined as something we pay (to the government) and get nothing in return (no product received), sales taxes might be the only exception because we get the product we purchase. This is not the case in the lottery, we get the ticket.

    And in both cases (cookies & lottery tickets) both are not needed to live and are voluntary.

    So by that definition the lottery is not a tax, but a product.

  • Pilot2B Sep 9, 2008

    Then why do a host of Baptist Churches have Bingo night where they can win in some cases more than $500?
    I see where you are getting at. "Are those churches being hypocritical if they say Bingo is OK, but the lottery is not?"

    Since my church does not have a Bingo night, I cannot answer this. Hopefully someone can whose church DOES have one, can explain it... I would hope that if the church saw someone spending a lot of $$ on Bingo, but could not buy food, etc they would say something.

    One last thing, churches are run by imperfect people and are attended by imperfect people, who both are subject to making mistakes, and may never have really considered the ramifications when they started it (Bingo).

  • TheAdmiral Sep 9, 2008

    "I don't understand how they can call this a "tax"."

    Because a vehicle registration is a tax, and you don't have a choice of paying it if you want to drive your car.

    You don't have a choice here if you wanted to purchase your lottery ticket.

    Any money that the government collects, call it a fee, a registration, or whatever - IS A TAX.

  • TheAdmiral Sep 9, 2008

    Pilot -

    Then why do a host of Baptist Churches have Bingo night where they can win in some cases more than $500?

  • TheAdmiral Sep 9, 2008

    Don't be closed sighted - the North Carolina Legislature and the Senate pushed through alot of Bills that will do damage to the public trust the last session. So it is not just this one.

  • vote4changeASAP Sep 9, 2008

    I guess the next time the legislature wants to push a bill though illegally that the majority of tarheels oppose, then maybe then their ethics will cause you some concern.

    This IS NOT about the lottery itself, but the state constitution and the FACT that is was ILLEGALLY PASSED.