Local News

N.C. Group Files Appeal To Stop Lottery, As Last-Minute Preps Are Made

Posted March 29, 2006 7:02 a.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2006 6:49 a.m. EST

— A lawsuit challenging the way the North Carolina lottery was passed won't stop Thursday's launch, but it could still have an impact.

The N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law (NCICL) filed an appeal Wednesday to last week's ruling by a Wake County judge to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the lottery was a tax and was passed illegally by the General Assembly.

Superior Court Judge Henry Hight ruled that the lottery is not a tax and was legally approved by the state legislature because no one is forced to play the lottery and the players get an immediate chance to win a prize in return for their purchase.

"As we have indicated from the beginning of this litigation, we feel that there are vitally important constitutional questions relating to the passage of the N.C. Lottery Act that need to be resolved with finality by our state's highest court," said NCICL's executive director, Robert Orr. "With the lottery beginning in N.C. this week, the need for the quickest possible resolution of these issues is imperative."

As the appeal was filed Wednesday, more than 51 million tickets were being delivered to more than 5,000 retailers across the state in anticipation of the March 30 launch.

Lottery officials also worked on final preparations Wednesday, taking calls from retailers with last-minute questions.

"Early indications are that retailers are receiving tickets, and everything is working," said lottery director Tom Shaheen.

Each retailer in the state has a computer terminal and a satellite dish to connect with lottery offices across the state. Each pack of tickets received will be scanned so that winners can be verified.

And while Shaheen and his lottery staff managed the last-minute details, Gov. Mike Easley, who fought for the lottery, fielded questions about long-term decisions.

About 35 percent of lottery proceeds are earmarked for education. Easley said the money will add to education funding -- not replace any in the existing budget -- even though the legislation doesn't guarantee that.

"Here's what I tell people," Easley said Wednesday. "I can guarantee as long as I'm governor, that will not happen. I'd veto anything that wasn't done that way."

One such program that will benefit from lottery money is a pre-kindergarten initiative called "More At Four," which serves about 15,000 children who are at-risk of not finishing school. With lottery money, it is expected to serve 25,000 additional children.

In addition to the pre-kindergarten program, the money will help reduce class size, fund school construction and provide scholarships, which would free up money for increasing teacher salaries.

Four different scratch-off games will be available Thursday beginning at 6 a.m. State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee will make the very first ticket purchase.

The odds of winning a $100,000 jackpot are about 1 in nearly 3 million; chances of winning a free ticket are about one in eight.

The lottery expects to sell $1 million to $2 million in tickets on the first day.

A helpline for gambling addicts also opens Thursday. As required by state law, proceeds from the lottery will help fund and establish the phone line, as well as gambling addiction programs. The number, (877) 718-5543 will be printed on the back of every lottery ticket.