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Easley: Lottery Will Recover From Initial Setbacks

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The departure of two lottery commission members and an investigation into alleged lobbying violations won't derail the struggling numbers game, Gov. Mike Easley said Tuesday.

During a news conference, Easley repeatedly expressed confidence in the lottery commission that must find an executive director and vendor to run the games.

The commission was designed to operate independent from politics, said Easley, a Democrat.

But that's proved to be a difficult task for the panel since Easley signed the games into law in August.

Before that, North Carolina was the only state on the East Coast without a state lottery. In the weeks since the bill was signed, two members of the new lottery commission have stepped down _ one citing time constraints, and another resigning hours before it was revealed he had done work for Scientific Games Corp.

A replacement nominee also dropped out on the same day she was announced as a recommended member, citing a potential conflict of interest.

State officials have asked prosecutors to investigate whether former commissioner Kevin Geddings, along with two others and Scientific Games, violated state lobbying laws. The company is one of the nation's leading suppliers of instant-win tickets and lottery software.

Scientific Games paid Geddings $24,500, in part to help push the lottery in North Carolina. Geddings resigned from the lottery commission last week but said he had done nothing wrong. He has not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment.

"The actions of one former commissioner, those actions do not reflect the rest of the members of that committee," Easley said. "The integrity of the lottery is absolutely critical."

Asked if Scientific Games should get the state's lottery contract, Easley said the commission will decide, but added that said the panel should look into how "deep" Geddings' involvement went.

"That, I think, would be what a prudent commission would do, especially when you have a limited number of vendors," he said.

During the one-hour press conference, the governor said he thought the state's ethics and lobbying laws should be made tougher to help avoid incidents like that with Geddings.

He also said he believes the lottery eventually will lead to the end of video poker, which the state Senate and sheriffs across the state have sought to have banned.

State Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, last week urged the commission to prohibit lottery contracts for retailers who also offer video poker, calling video poker "one of our state's worst and most addictive legal vices."

The commission is scheduled to address Basnight's request and interview potential directors Wednesday.

Easley said the commission can lead the lottery through its difficulties.

"You can focus on the bumps or you can focus on the road," Easley said. "I intend to focus myself on the road, and I'm quite pleased with the progress that they're making."