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House Speaker Willing To Listen To Possibility Of Statewide Lottery

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina has been left out of the lottery playing fever, but the hype of the $325 million Big Game jackpot and the state's horrible budget conditions may put lottery back on the table.

State Speaker of the House Jim Black said a lottery could be a better choice than raising taxes or making drastic budget cuts.

"In light of the economic times, we're in right now with the choices of raising taxes or cutting deeply into education and human services. I believe that the lottery will have a better change now than it has ever had," Black said.

Even outspoken lottery opponents like Rep. Gregg Thompson (R-Mitchell), are weighing the facts.

"When we come back in session and the lottery is put before us versus the cuts that we are going to be faced with, it probably will change some minds," Thompson said.

The state House will be the battleground for the lottery. The state Senate has passed the lottery before, only to see the House not take any action.

Black, who wants a third term as House Speaker, opposes the lottery, but said that he will not stand in the way of a floor vote, if the votes are there.

With a budget hole of $1.2 billion and at the urging of Gov. Mike Easley, Black appears ready to start thinking about the possibility of a statewide lottery.

"We're just going to start talking to members pretty soon and I do know there are more votes for a referendum than there would be for a straight up or down vote," Black said.

Rep. Bob Hensley (D-Raleigh) said he believes the lottery solution will not work.

"I'm against the lottery because economically, it is not a good financial gain for North Carolina," he said. "There are so many other ways of doing the same thing, quicker and cheaper."

Easley said putting a lottery to a referendum in November would take too much time. He said the state need the money now. Easley believes a lottery could raise $450 million. Opponents argue that the lottery cannot be passed quick enough to help with this year's budget cuts.

Lawmakers will meet next month. Black said he plans to deal with the lottery quickly.


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