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House Budget Passes: Gambling on Education?

June 16, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. – In what's normally a black and white discussion of ways to keep the state out of the red, the North Carolina House budget passed on Friday would increase lottery advertising dollars to pay teachers – and critics see it as taking a gamble with the state's money.

Lawmakers are counting on additional ads to prompt more lottery ticket sales.

But it's the people who will be playing the lotto who have George Reed concerned.

He heads the North Carolina Council of Churches.

"The idea of increasing advertising to encourage more people who really can't afford to lose the money to lose their money to a lottery, that's just wrong on so many levels," he says.

Reed is also concerned that the proposal doesn't offer a dependable solution to education funding.

According to a study by the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, households with incomes under $13,000 a year spend about 9 percent of their income on lottery tickets.

Today, the North Carolina Council of Churches is hosting a public Critical Issues Seminar in Chapel Hill to focus on more permanent solutions to education funding in the state.

Keith Whyte, executive director, National Council on Problem Gambling, points out a state would never advertise for people to smoke or drink more to increase tax revenue.

"However, with the lottery, you do see these kinds of enticements, to gamble more for a good cause,” he says. “And while the cause may be fine, 2 to 3 percent of North Carolina adults are expected to meet some criteria for a gambling addiction."

Reed is quick to point out that the Council of Churches' seminar was planned long before lawmakers began talking about using lottery money to pay for teacher raises.

He explains why his group is invested in finding a solution.

"We see public education as a vehicle for social justice,” he says. “The public schools need to provide a good, sound education for everyone."

This week, members of the House and Senate will work to reach a budget compromise.

The Lottery Commission estimates that increasing advertising would generate $106 million more in lottery sales.

It now spends $17 million a year on ads, which would double to $34 million under the budget proposal.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC