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House Lottery Vote Seen As Emotional For Many Legislators

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wednesday's lottery vote in the state House was not only controversial, but it was also emotional.

"I saw people that were emotional to the point that they had tears in their eyes. Yes, I saw that," said Rep. Bill Owens, D-Elizabeth City, who sponsored the bill.

House Bill 1023

How They Voted

The bill sponsor would not say who felt the personal strain, but no one WRAL talked with said they felt political pressure. Rep. Joe Hackney and Rep. Deborah Ross were two undecided lawmakers whose yes votes pushed it forward.

"No, I was not pressured. People would ask me where I was, but I didn't get any pressure from the governor or the speaker," Hackney said.

"I hate lotteries. I don't think that they are good public policy, but in the General Assembly, it's very, very difficult to find votes to raise any kind of revenue," Ross said.

"I think more than likely what happened was that people didn't make up their mind until moments before they pressed the button," said Rep. Paul Miller, who was one of the few Democrats to vote against the lottery.

Miller and anti-lottery lobbyist Bill Brooks said the fight and the emotion don't end here.

"This is an issue that puts the state in the gambling business and so nobody takes it lightly," Brooks said.

If history is an indicator, then the lottery bill that the House approved Wednesday by the narrowest of margins should pass the Senate with flying colors. However, no one was certain that the House vote of 61-59 would stand up if the House was required to vote again on the lottery bill because the Senate chose to tinker with it.

While longtime proponent Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, seemed ready to give his blessing, Senate President Marc Basnight was less certain.

"I don't think it's in our best interest to take a piece of recommendation from another body and accept,'' said Basnight, D-Dare, when asked if the Senate would change the lottery bill. "... I think that would be irresponsible on our part.''

Rand said he expected the Senate would approve the bill, perhaps as it was recommended by the House. "I don't think we'll have problems with it,'' he said.

House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, warned the Senate against making any significant changes that would require the House to vote again because the vote could change if the House has to reconsider the bill. Besides, he said: "I don't want to deal with it anymore.''

Basnight and Rand said they hadn't closely examined the bill. The Senate has been focused in recent weeks on generating the first version of the state budget for next year. The lottery legislation approved by the House would dedicate profits from the games to school construction, scholarships and other education initiatives.

The bill also bans lottery advertising anywhere except the sites where the tickets are sold.

Democratic Gov. Mike Easley has pushed a lottery for education needs since taking office in 2001. House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, and his lieutenants pushed a bill through a lottery committee earlier Wednesday.

Though past lottery proposals died in the House, supporters finally persuaded enough lawmakers worried about education funding -- and a projected $1 billion state spending shortfall this coming budget year -- to come to their side.

The Senate has voted three times -- in 1989, 1991 and 1993 -- for a lottery. Most recently, when Democrats held a razor-thin margin of 26-24 in 1995, the measure failed. Democrats now outnumber Republicans 29-21.

The Senate "won't be in a huge hurry" to consider the bill, Basnight said.

Sen. Charlie Albertson, one of the fiercest opponents of video poker in the Legislature, said he thought the lottery bill's chances in the Senate were good, although he was likely to oppose it.

"I don't think I like the state being in the gambling business," said Albertson, a conservative Democrat from Duplin County willing to break ranks with Basnight.

The anti-advertising language might make the bill more palatable to others who might typically oppose a lottery, "but I still don't think I like it,'' Albertson said.

Lottery opponents had no plans to give up, said John Rustin of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, noting that it's been 10 years since the last Senate vote and 12 since senators gave a thumbs-up to the lottery.

"We're going to do everything we can to educate the members of the Senate'' on the problems with a lottery, he said.

Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, predicted a close vote.

"The conventional wisdom is that it will pass, but I think it will be close," he said.

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