With the Implementation of a State Lottery, North Carolina Could Write Its Own Ticket

With the Implementation of a State Lottery, North Carolina Could Write Its Own Ticket

For many conservatives, the image of a state lottery conjures up pictures of seedy criminals, gambling addicts and mothers spending all of their kids' food money on tickets. In reality, there is no way something as harmless as a state lottery could suddenly turn good parents into bad ones and nice neighborhoods into slums. The idea is ludicrous. Proceeds from a state lottery would be channeled into schools and college scholarships; the money garnished would be used to build a better future, not perpetuate a worse one. Substantial funds would go toward sending students with a B average or better to college, and any monies remaining would go to technology and capital needs in public schools.

A lottery in North Carolina would generate in the neighborhood of $1 billion a year. Even after all the prize money is paid and the operating costs are covered, the state would still net approximately $300 million. (Nilson, Feb.1999). While these figures are impressive, some experts worry that the state might become too dependent on lottery income and that if something were to happen to discontinue the lottery, the state would be in a very deep financial hole. This argument, however, is very weak, considering that states with lotteries have steadily and continually flourished and the popularity of the game is not even slightly beginning to wane. In addition, although the law does not allow other state accounts to be used to make up any shortfall in lottery funds, it does provide for a reserve fund to be created from any surplus lottery revenues.

Critics also claim that implementing a state lottery in North Carolina would act as a sort of Robin Hood in reverse; taking from the poor and filling the silk-lined pockets of the rich. In Virginia, the state which reaps most of the benefits from North Carolina's non-lottery status, the median family income for lottery players in 1997 was $29,000. Families that had a child entering the University of North Carolina in 1997 however had a median income of $55,000. For freshmen at UNC-Chapel Hill, the median family income was $75,000. This leads some anti-lottery advocates to assume that if a lottery were implemented in North Carolina, the lower income families would be spending their paychecks trying to win the lottery, when in reality all they will be doing is helping send rich kids to college (Nilson, Jan.1999). This argument is not only weak but it stereotypes entire classes of people while ignoring the fact that a kid attending college is a good thing, no matter what type of background he comes from.

Those who oppose the idea of North Carolina establishing a lottery system base most of their arguments on the “burden of the poor”, or the assumption that lower-income families and individuals will not be able to play the lottery responsibly. Once again, there is blatant prejudicial stereotyping going on here, and it is insulting to many people that the government thinks that the masses are either too stupid or too undisciplined to refrain from going overboard with their lottery spending. According to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution “ those earning less than $24,000 a year accounted for less than 9 percent of lottery players, and those earning more than $75,000 accounted for only 24 percent”.(Nilson, Jan. 1999)

Gambling addiction, just like alcohol and drug addiction, can strike the rich as easily as the poor. Gambler’s Anonymous’ philosophies are congruent with those of Alcoholics Anonymous in that they both describe addiction as a disease with which the victim is born; not as a culmination of environmental and societal influences. Therefore, the lottery is a choice, not a “burden”. Nobody has to play the lottery, and those who feel they have to can come from any social class or economic background. What right does the government have to dictate how anyone should spend their money, and what right does it have to complain about generating billions of dollars to further the education of our youth?

Senator Bill Martin, a staunch lottery supporter, strongly objects to some opponents' claims that lotteries prey on the poor. "It is a very paternalistic argument saying that folks that have less money don't know how to spend it and therefore we should stop them from doing it," Martin said. "Each poll that I've seen suggests that anywhere from 65 percent to 75 percent of North Carolinians want the opportunity to vote on it. ... I think that warrants some strong consideration." (Heath, 1999).

Even when we put all of these issues and arguments aside, the fact remains that if people want to play the lottery, they will. Being forced to cross state lines and donate all of the proceeds to another state is not going to stop anyone who really wants to play. A substantial number North Carolinians are already playing the lottery in other states, spending an estimated $80 million a year on games in Virginia. A North Carolina lottery would reap tremendous financial benefits by keeping its customers at home. This is something with which 37 other states have already come to terms. So why is North Carolina still holding out against the majority? Well, with vociferous anti-lottery representatives like Bladen County Democrat, Edd Nye spreading their message so vehemently, it is easy to see why some key players are reluctant to proceed. Nye defends his position by claiming that it is “bad public policy for the state to be in the gambling business.” However the lottery can hardly be equated with state-run casinos. Despite overwhelming statistics to the contrary, Nye is also not convinced that a lottery would generate enough revenue to justify its existence. “If the state needs money, lawmakers should raise it in other ways”. That’s all well and good, but Nye has yet to offer a comparable alternative.

More important that what the lawmakers want is what the people want. A poll taken last July by The Charlotte Observer showed that 68 percent of North Carolinians were in favor of implementing a state lottery. A year ago, legislators were debating whether or not to allow the voters to decide if a lottery should be established in North Carolina. However, many legislators are not convinced that voters will see the lottery on the ballot any time soon. After all, the lottery bill has yet to go to a vote in the House, despite the fact that measures have passed the Senate on three separate occasions in the late eighties and early nineties (Heath, 1999).

Whether it happens now or later, chances are North Carolina will eventually follow the path the majority of the country has chosen and implement a state lottery. Once opponents are able to see for themselves that the lottery does not inspire moral corruption and societal decay, they might even stand in line to buy a few tickets themselves. Representative David Redwine, an Ocean Isle Beach Democrat summed the truth of the matter up beautifully in the following statement: Most people I talk to think the lottery is a game. It's like bingo. It's not full of glitter and alcohol and slot machines going ding, ding, ding. You can go to McDonald's and scratch off a little thing and win french fries; what's the difference? (Heath, 1999).

When you look it that way, it is almost impossible to see the lottery as the “demon” some make it out to be. The fact is, the lottery is just a harmless game which generates funds for education and allows people the joy of knowing they could be just a dollar away from realizing their wildest dreams.


Heath, Jena. "Lottery Bill Unlikely in 2000", North Carolina News & Observer, March 28, 1999.

Nilson, Kim. "Dueling lottery bills fuel debate". The Fayetteville Oberver, Thursday, Feb. 18, 1999.

Nilson, Kim. "Lottery looks like ‘go’". The Fayetteville Oberver, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 1999