RALEIGH— Social conservatives in the House long opposed to North Carolina's lottery had to swallow hard before voting yes and bet on a plan that contained sizeable teacher salary increases.
That's because House GOP leaders essentially offered colleagues a deal in the budget bill — let the lottery spend more to entice more people to participate in state-sponsored gambling, and they'll help give teachers average 5 percent raises, their largest in years.
The proposal tells the lottery it can spend twice as much on advertising to generate another $106 million in net profits for the state in the year starting July 1. That requires a 23 percent jump in projected lottery sales, or $425 million.
"I really hate that lottery. I wish we weren't doing that part," said Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, a minister. "I just had to weigh the pros and cons of the budget, and I felt like the good it was doing, I just had to go ahead and vote for that."
Apparently the choice wasn't so difficult for everyone. Pittman and all other Republicans present save for one voted late last week for the $21.1 billion budget.
That widespread support reflects changing responses to the lottery and gambling among Republicans since the lottery idea was narrowly approved by the General Assembly in 2005. Most Republicans voted against the law at the time, although the unusual absences of two Senate Republicans helped lead to its eventual passage.
With tickets sold since 2006, many GOP lawmakers now walk between embracing lottery revenues for education and talking about the lottery's repeal only in theory. The state lottery is popular as ticket sales and profits keep increasing. Republicans probably would have stopped the lottery's creation had they been in charge at the time, House Speaker Thom Tillis said.
"But it is here and you can't unnecessarily ring that bell when you're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars going to education," said Tillis, R-Mecklenburg. The House budget envisions spending $658 million in lottery proceeds for education initiatives.
But as the budget raises the cap on advertising expenses for the North Carolina Education Lottery from 1 percent of sales to 2 percent, it restricts ad content, too. Republicans inserted language that prevents lottery ads or sponsorships with universities and requires ads to include the odds of winning a game's largest prize, not the overall odds of winning a prize.
Tillis said the language will improve the integrity of the lottery's pitch to potential players. Others go farther and argue the advertising expansion won't actually encourage gambling. Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, who developed the language, is persuaded the restrictions will have the opposite effect in the long term.
"It plants the seeds of the ultimate destruction of the lottery when people know what they're doing," said Stam, who voted against the lottery in 2005 but voted for the budget.
A few House Democrats who also voted against the 2005 law mentioned during the budget floor debate the irony of Republican colleagues seeking to expand lottery sales.
"One of the reasons I opposed the lottery is that gambling is addictive," said Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake. "What I didn't suspect at the time though is that the folks that would get addicted to gambling would be the General Assembly."
Senate Republicans say the lottery advertising changes won't fly in their chamber during budget negotiations starting this week with the House over a final spending plan. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who would be asked to sign the budget into law, said last year he wanted to reallocate a portion of lottery advertising and administration costs toward school technology.
That's likely good news to Rep. Deborah Conrad of Forsyth County, the lone Republican to vote against the House budget. She wants the lottery provisions removed so she could vote for the final budget.