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RALEIGH, N.C. -- Still one vote shy in the state Senate, supporters of a lottery in North Carolina appear to be fighting a losing battle, the Associated Press reported.
Unless leaders can shake loose one more "yes" vote, North Carolina seems all but certain to remain the only state on the East Coast without a lottery for another year.
After two decades of failed efforts, lottery supporters thought this was the year their luck had turned. They won a House ballot in April by two votes, sending the lottery to the Senate, which had historically supported a numbers game and is home to the closest allies of Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, an ardent lottery supporter.
But then came weeks of negotiations over the state budget that diverted the attention of lawmakers. In the rush to wrap up business for the year after legislators finally agreed on a spending plan, all of the Senate's 21 Republicans, along with five of the chamber's majority Democrats, remained steadfast against the lottery.
Opponents hold a 26-24 advantage in the 50-seat chamber. Unless a member of that majority switches their vote and creates a tie, sure to be broken in favor of the lottery by Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, Senate leaders are unlikely to call for a vote this coming week when the legislature is set to adjourn for the year.
"I don't think the government should be advertising gambling," said Democratic Sen. Janet Cowell, one of the so-called "Lottery Five" who were unswayed by meetings with Senate leaders and the pleas of public school teachers who say a lottery would generate more than $400 million annually for education. "I don't think a lottery's good public policy."
So strong is the opposition that Democratic Sen. David Hoyle darkly joked at one point that the lottery's only chance is if some senators can't vote. "If there's an ax murderer on the floor, we might be able to move forward," he said.
Lawmakers have already decided where the state's rake of lottery proceeds will go -- school construction, college scholarships for low-income students, and Easley's initiatives to reduce class sizes and prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten. But they must first pass the separate legislation enacting the lottery before the money begins to stack up.
Lottery bills have for years knocked around the General Assembly. The Senate has approved a lottery at least three times, only to have the idea die in the House.
Both the Senate and the House will return to Raleigh this coming week, although they're not scheduled to do much more than tie up loose ends before formally adjourning.
Polls have repeatedly shown about two-thirds of North Carolina residents back a lottery. Lottery supporters say residents spend $300 million annually on out-of-state games.