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Lure of the Lottery: Opponents Say Don't Gamble With State's Future

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RALEIGH — Many critics of a lottery say the games prey on people who cannot afford it. That is just one point anti-lottery forces make in North Carolina to rally opposition.

Lottery opponents are letting their voices be heard. They are organized and well connected to the

state legislature


They call themselves Citizens United Against the Lottery and are led by former gubernatorial candidate Chuck Neely.

"Our cause is right. We are not here to threaten or berate. We are here to educate," says Neely. "And we are here to let the people's will be known, that we don't want a lottery in North Carolina."

Advocates say a lottery will help North Carolina schools, but critics point to Florida, a state that took education money out of their budget after the lottery passed.

One of North Carolina's most distinguished educators does not want our state to make the same mistake.

"Our state has the capacity and the will to finance the education of its children without resorting to legalized gambling or to gambling in any form," says former UNC System President Dr. William Friday.

Many political and religious leaders have spoken out against the lottery, while groups of concerned citizens have gone straight to the legislature to lobby their representatives.

Far removed from the politics and downtown demonstrations is a small group of people who meet in a church basement. They are Gamblers Anonymous and some members know all too well, the lure of the lottery.

"When I was on my way to buy lottery tickets it was the same thing as going to the racetrack, only the money I was going to bet on the lottery was going to be more than the racetrack. I still had the feeling that I was going to be a winner. I had the feeling that someday my dreams would come true," says Tom S.

Tom's dreams did not come true. He gambled away thousands of dollars every year, a trend among lottery players that has not gone unnoticed by business leaders.

According to the North Carolina Retail and Merchants Association, our state stands to lose millions of dollars in consumer spending if a lottery is passed.

"We believe that the lottery is an inefficient tax that hurts small businesses, costs local jobs and preys on our most vulnerable citizens," says the association's Fran Preston.

Perhaps North Carolina's most recognizable lottery opponent is former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith.

Smith is a long-time critic of gambling on collegiate athletics, and likens a lottery to the bright lights of Vegas.

"If the state wants to go with a lottery, why not go with the whole works. Let's go with casinos. You know, that way you get better odds and you get some more of the wealthy people maybe to try it," says Smith. "You know, this is ridiculous to go for a dollar here and a dollar there for lottery tickets, and again, from more who couldn't afford to gamble."

In fact, those who cannot afford to gamble seem to suffer the most. In states with lotteries, studies show that the poorest 20 percent of the population buy approximately half of their state's lottery tickets.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Capitol Broadcasting Company, parent of WRAL-TV, made a financial contribution to Citizens United Against the Lottery.