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State Legislators Aim To Try Lottery Vote

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RALEIGH, N.C. — With the help of a popular governor and new twists on an old debate, supporters of a state lottery believe this could be the year such a plan is approved.

"I think this is the best chance we'll ever have," said Rep. Bill Owens, D-Camden County.

Tired of seeing Tar Heels spend hundreds of millions of dollars out of state, Owens, from Elizabeth City, just filed his ninth bill attempting to create a lottery.

The new bill is a local option proposal that would allow individual counties to vote on the idea. In the plan, 25 percent of proceeds would go to local school construction. The rest goes to educational programs.

"I don't care whether it's a statewide advisory referendum or a local option," Owens said. "I just want the most votes to ensure passage."

But Republicans don't agree.

"I don't see the lottery being our answer to education," said Representative Leo Daughtry of Johnston County.

A veteran lawmaker and lottery opponent, Daughtry believes the odds of winning are as bad as ever.

"It should get a vote. It should be debated and voted on in the house like every other bill," Daughtry said. "But, you don't think it's going to pass? I wouldn't think so."

Political commentator Barlow Herget believes House Speaker Jim Black will gauge the mood of lawmakers with an early vote count.

"The House is still kind of a mystery," Herget said.

"The lottery's biggest champion is coming off a convincing November win and Gov. Mike Easley bets he'll finally sway lawmakers.

"The legislators all know how much he won by," Herget said. "So, I think the governor has more clout coming into the debate this time."

Democratic control in both the House and Senate could also help the lottery's chances. Easley's top economic adviser, Dan Gerlach, said the governor will not count on lottery money in this year's budget plan.

However, he believes this is the administration's best chance yet to push it through.

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