RALEIGH — For North Carolina lottery officials, it is quite the turn of events.
Just a few months ago, some state legislators appeared to want to all but shut down the lottery.
State Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, a Wake County Republican, admitted he would like to see the lottery abolished. “If I had the votes to do it, I would,” Stam said during a March House committee meeting.
What Stam did instead was push legislation through the House that would have imposed new advertising restrictions on the lottery. The proposal would require ads to show the odds of winning not just all prizes, but the largest prize, and that ads show winnings for lump sum payments, not only the amounts paid out over time.
Stam found Democratic allies for his effort, including Rep. Rick Glazier of Cumberland County, who called his decision to vote in favor of the lottery back in 2005 perhaps the worst of his legislative career.
But he didn’t find any support for his ideas in the state Senate. After the proposed advertising restrictions passed 99-12 in the House, they failed to gain any traction in the Senate.
Arguments from lottery officials that the changes would mean $60 million less business apparently found favor among state senators.
Fast-forward six months and state lottery officials are planning to allow players to buy tickets for three games — Powerball, Mega Millions and Carolina Cash 5 — over the Internet.
The system, which could be up and running in November, will require players to subscribe for at least two weeks of drawings. It is designed to verify the ages of players to prevent anyone under 18 from playing.
It also will include features to prevent abuse, putting limits on the number of tickets an individual buyer may purchase.
State lottery officials predict the change will increase sales by 1 to 2 percent. Alice Garland, the executive director of the state lottery, said the increases in sales “will increase the benefits we provide to education in our state.”
Eleven other states already allow online purchases, and North Carolina’s lottery law also includes language anticipating online and electronic sales.
Still, you have to wonder what state lawmakers might think about this sort of thing.
Stam’s point, in pushing for more advertising restrictions, was that the lottery uses false hope to lure ticket buyers.
Online sales surely makes access to that false hope easier.
When the lottery was initially approved, some legislators also publicly fretted about any direct electronic sales increasing the likelihood of players becoming addicted gamblers.
It may be perfectly logical for anyone operating an enterprise who sells goods or services to the public to want to see those sales increase.
The lottery, though, is not just any enterprise.
It is state-run gambling. As such, it will always be somewhat controversial.
After their close shave this past year, you would think that those who run the lottery might want to avoid inviting any of that controversy.