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    North Carolina Will Launch Numbers Game

    Stores should start selling lottery scratch-off tickets by early next year.

    RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina senators have approved a state lottery, putting an end to its status as the only state on the East Coast not to have a numbers game.

    The 24-to-24 vote among senators -- requiring Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue to break the tie -- virtually assures stores will start selling scratch-off tickets by early next year, The (N.C.-based) Charlotte Observer reported.

    State officials now begin the steps of building a lottery organization, hiring contractors and writing rules, a process that will take months.

    "This is a win for the four-year-olds who require pre-K, the low-wealth counties that need assistance with school construction and the disadvantaged students trying to go to college," Gov. Mike Easley said in a statement.

    The lottery is expected to raise up to $1 billion a year. Half of gross sales would be devoted to prizes, 8 percent would cover administrative costs, 7 percent would go to retailers and the remaining 35 percent would be spent on education.

    Instant-win scratch-off tickets could be ready for sale within six months; lotto-style games where players pick numbers for larger prizes could arrive in stores a few months later. Lottery organizers would decide whether North Carolina would participate in multistate games such as Powerball.

    North Carolina became surrounded by lotteries last year when Tennessee became the 40th state to adopt one. South Carolina started selling tickets as part of its education lottery in 2001.

    Convenience store owners are clamoring for a lottery, said Sen. David Hoyle, who added that shoppers who pick up lottery tickets in the Palmetto State are also buying their gas, cigarettes and food there.

    "From downtown Gastonia to downtown Clover is about 8 miles -- 10 minutes," Hoyle said before the vote. "Things have changed."

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