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The Daily Tar Heel

Proposed Lottery Bill Divides N.C. House

House Bill 1, which would allow a state lottery primarily aimed at funding education, was introduced Wednesday, the first day of the legislative session.

Rep. Bill Owens, D-Camden, introduced the bill, motivated mainly, he said, by the millions of dollars N.C. residents spend annually on out-of-state lotteries.

Owens' bill would divert 25 percent of the lottery proceeds to prekindergarten programs. An additional 50 percent would fund various educational areas, including elementary and secondary education and college scholarships. The rest would be dispersed to fund various other state needs.

Owens said he realizes that other lottery bills previously have failed on the General Assembly floor, most recently in 1999. But Owens said he hopes this time will be different.

"I think this is going to be an uphill battle," he said. "And I'm not (so) naive (as) to think this is going to pass without a problem."

Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Camden, opposes a lottery and said he does not believe the bill will pass. Daughtry said the state should try to avoid a lottery, calling it a tax on the poor.

Lottery opponents have long argued that lower-income citizens are more likely to participate in a lottery in hope of getting rich, rendering lotteries, in effect, a regressive tax.

"It's a low-class thing for our state to get into and it's an unsure, undependable source of income," Daughtry said.

Gov. Mike Easley has also eased up on his support of a lottery, even though during his campaign Easley often advocated a lottery as a source of funding for education. Easley's press office said he has not yet taken an official stance on the bill.

But Owens said he understands the argument that a lottery would be detrimental to society.

"(The lottery) is a vice, like tobacco and alcohol," Owens said. "Maybe you shouldn't do it, but I think that choice should be left to the individual."

UNC economics Professor Patrick Conway also voiced concerns about the moral implications of using a lottery to boost state revenue.

"And I don't think it's in the state's best interest to encourage that kind of compulsive behavior," he said.

Owens said he understands that lotteries carry potentially negative consequences but added that the bill will at least force the state's hand on the issue.

"The thing I hate to see is money leaving the state," he said. "If our neighboring states did not have lotteries, I wouldn't be introducing this bill."

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