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Gubernatorial Candidates' Support Of Lottery is Tepid

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - It will be difficult to replace North Carolina's biggest booster of the state lottery when outgoing Gov. Mike Easley leaves office in January.

No one championed the lottery like Easley, who pressed legislators for 4 1/2 years before they narrowly approved the North Carolina Education Lottery. The state was the last on the East Coast to start up a state-run numbers and instant-win game.

Among the major-party candidates who want to succeed him, only one - Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue - is nearly as enthusiastic about the lottery as Easley. As president of the Senate, she proudly cast the deciding vote as a deadlocked chamber finally approved the lottery in August 2005.

"I supported the lottery. I've been a believer in it," Perdue said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "It's money in the system that we never would have had for schools and for scholarships and for the future of North Carolina."

But the other leading candidates for Easley's job have only a tepid level of support - or an outright distaste - for the lottery, which has brought in more than $500 million for education programs since the first tickets were sold in March 2006.

The other candidates don't like the formula by which the lottery's proceeds are disbursed, particular when it comes to school construction. Tickets sales, while improving in recent months, have failed so far to meet the expectations set by Easley or the lottery's backers in the General Assembly. Many simply don't like the lottery for philosophical reasons.

"It's preying on people who (get) false hopes that you don't have to work to earn money," said Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican. "I think that's the real false message of this lottery."

Still, only state Sen. Fred Smith said he would veto legislation to re-approve the lottery, should such a bill be required by a pending lawsuit that challenges the procedural method lawmakers used to create it.

"A majority of North Carolinians wanted this game. There are too many other issues out there. I'm not going to put any emphasis in trying to upset this," said State Treasurer Richard Moore, Perdue's chief rival in the Democratic primary.

Bob Orr, another GOP candidate, filed the lawsuit challenging the lottery. He said he wouldn't necessarily oppose letting North Carolina enter a multistate game such as Powerball, as long as the law was approved correctly.

"Unless you know the votes are there, it's not a place where you want to expand political capital," Orr said.

State law requires the lottery's net profits - about 35 percent of ticket sales - be spent on education. Half must benefit initiatives for pre-kindergarten and class-size reduction in early grades. Ten percent goes for college scholarships, with the rest distributed to counties for school construction.

It's the construction piece where many candidates find fault. Smith said he wants that portion distributed on a per-capita basis, so the money goes to where the students live. The current law gives more of the money to counties who have higher-than-average property tax rates.

Salisbury attorney Bill Graham, another GOP candidate, would give all the net profits, projected at $350 million this year, to counties to support a multibillion dollar school construction bond. Critics of the current distribution system argue the construction money slice is barely enough for one school system to build a single school.

None of the candidates admitted to spending much money trying to win big. Moore, Graham and Smith said they have never bought a lottery ticket. McCrory said he once had a scratch-off ticket featuring NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, but he couldn't remember if he bought or someone else did.

Perdue said played the lottery once, while her family bought Powerball tickets for a big jackpot earlier this year.

After some prodding, Orr sheepishly admitted that he has bought a few Powerball tickets, even though he filed the lawsuit challenging the legality of the lottery.

"They helped fund the campaign," joked Orr, who has had trouble raising money for his campaign.


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