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N.C. House Delays Vote On Lottery Referendum

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is a step closer to a statewide lottery, however it could be another daybefore lawmakers in the House take up the issue.

A vote for the entire House was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon,but was delayed as both sides of the issue sought more lobbying time.

Lawmakers could take up the issue Thursday afternoon.

By a 15-13 vote, the House rules committee approvedlegislation Tuesday that would place an advisory referendum for a lotteryon the November ballot.

All but two Democrats on the committee, Reps. Joe Hackney of Orange County and Paul Luebke of Durham County, voted for the legislation. All but two Republicans, Reps. Cary Allred of AlamanceCounty and Wilma Sherrill of Buncombe County, voted against it.

It marks the first time the lottery has gotten this far in the House.

Legislators who have not made up their minds have been besieged by calls and e-mails from people on both sides of the issue.

Anti-lottery forces believe they still have the votes to defeatthe referendum on the House floor.

Before a session Monday night, House Speaker Jim Black met with the House Leadership. Black stopped short of saying whether there are enough votes to pass the lottery bill.

"It is so amazing to me that it is so difficult to get lawmakers to vote for something so popular that so many people want, when they are willing to vote for so many things that people don't want," said Gov. Mike Easley.

Easley said state-sponsored gambling could generate millions of dollars to fund early education programs and reduce class size.

State Representative Bill Owens has sponsored no less than six lottery initiatives during his eight terms in the House.

"I see it as a voluntary tax, the people are going to do it. They are going to do it regardless," Owens said.

Chuck Neely, of Citizens United Against the Lottery, said the House would vote down a straight lottery. He said the House leadership is using a referendum to sneak in the back door.

"And then they are going to use that to attempt to sledgehammer and jimmy this thing through over people's best judgement. I think it is a sorry way to do business, to do legislative business, and I think frankly it's illegal," he said.

Should the referendum pass, it would go before voters this fall. It would be used as a most accurate poll for how voters feel about the lottery in N.C.

South Carolina lottery officials are already scratching their heads for ideas to keep loyal customers from the Tar Heel state.

To counter the potential hit from competition, the lottery would boost in-store marketing along border areas.

S.C. expects to begin a multi-state Powerball lottery in October, with players competing for millions. S.C. has a head start on N.C. If lawmakers approve a lottery, it would take about four months to get the games running.

North Carolina is the only state on the East Coast without a lottery.

Beyond the lottery, state House budget writers are talking about Plan B if the gridlock continues over a revenue package.

Eight days into the new fiscal year, the House is having trouble getting enough votes for a budget plan.

Plan B would be for the Legislature to adjourn without adopting the budget adjustment and the governor would have to work with the state budget plan that is already in place.

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