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The Daily Tar Heel

Group Aims to Push N.C. Lottery

The coalition was formed a month after Chuck Neely, who lost a gubernatorial bid in the 2000 Republican primary, organized Citizens United Against the Lottery.

Although the pro-lottery group is still in its fledgling stages, it has the potential to be effective, said the coalition's organizer, Jay Reiff, who managed Gov. Mike Easley's gubernatorial campaign.

To increase support for a lottery, Reiff said the coalition plans to inform teachers and parents of elementary school students about benefits a lottery could produce for the state's educational system.

Reiff said he hopes the group will convince the N.C. General Assembly to put a lottery referendum on the ballot in May 2002. Four different lottery bills have been proposed in the state legislature so far, all of them referred to committees.

Reiff said he believes there is broad support for education improvements financed by a lottery. "I want to make sure those voices get heard," he said.

But Neely argues otherwise.

"Unfortunately for (Reiff) most business, religious and civic organizations are opposed to the lottery," he said. "He will have a challenging time finding supporters."

Unlike Reif's organization, Neely's anti-lottery group has gained broad support from a variety of famous figures across the state, including former UNC men's basketball coach Dean Smith, evangelist Billy Graham and former UNC-system Presidents Bill Friday and C.D. Spangler.

Neely said a lottery would be detrimental to education and would target the poor while teaching society wrong values.

But Reiff pointed out that North Carolina is losing revenue because many residents go to neighboring states such as Virginia or South Carolina to buy tickets.

He said the state would use future lottery revenue to improve its educational system. "The North Carolina General Assembly can no longer stick its head in the sand."

Lobbyists on both sides of the debate are gearing up for what might be a tough battle in the General Assembly.

"It's going to be a close vote -- neither the pro-lottery or anti-lottery groups have the majority," Reiff said.

He said proceeds generated by the lottery will range between $300 million to $700 million a year and could greatly enhance educational facilities for elementary schools.

Easley based part of his campaign on a lottery to help fund education.

Reid Hartzoge, Easley's assistant press secretary, said the governor would support using lottery revenue to reduce class size and develop a pre-kindergarten program for at-risk four-year-olds.

Hartzoge added that the formation of pro- and anti-lottery groups is a healthy way to encourage debate.

"It takes significant revenue to make these changes in the school system," she said. "If anybody has a better way to generate this money, then we are more than willing to listen."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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