The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday September 18th

Lottery Issue to Resurface Soon

After largely being forgotten, statewide lottery legislation could be revived this week.

House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, announced Tuesday that legislation calling for a lottery referendum will be heard by a House committee within the next few days.

Black has yet to announce which committee will hear the legislation -- the House Rules or House Finance Committee -- or when the bill will be heard.

While Black never has explicitly said that he supports a lottery, he has repeatedly stated that he will not use his power as House speaker to prevent the legislation from passing.

"The speaker believed it was time to bring up the lottery legislation, and the governor asked him to bring it up," said Danny Lineberry, Black's spokesman. "He said all along that it would come up sometime during this session -- nothing has changed that."

Many believed the legislation to be all but dead because many legislators thought there were not enough votes to pass the legislation.

But even with the revival of the bill, lottery proponents don't seem confident the legislature has enough votes to pass a divided House.

The Democrats hold only a four-seat majority in the House, and with most Republicans and some liberal Democrats in opposition to the lottery the legislation could have a difficult time passing the chamber.

"The speaker doesn't know if there are enough votes -- it will be extremely close," Lineberry said.

The largely Democratic Senate has passed a bill calling for a lottery referendum several times in the last decade. Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, D-Beaufort, said the Senate will not tackle the lottery issue this session until the House passes some sort of legislation.

The bill also has the support of Gov. Mike Easley, who campaigned on a statewide lottery aiming to benefit education.

Even Bill Owens, D-Perquimans, who sponsored the lottery legislation, said he is not sure whether the bill has enough votes in the House.

"I'm not sure we have enough votes to pass it," Owens said. "I think it will be an uphill battle to get this legislation through."

But he said members of the public should be allowed to make up their own minds on a statewide lottery.

"I think we should pass the legislation and allow the public to hear the arguments for both sides and make their own decision," Owens said.

Chuck Neely, chairman of Citizens United Against the Lottery, said he is confident the majority of lawmakers have decided to oppose the legislation.

"As more and more time has gone by, the legislators have learned more about the lottery and its adverse impacts," Neely said.

"Based on our head count we believe a substantial majority of the House opposes the lottery bill."

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

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