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January 28, 2013

GOP seeks to stop food stamp recipients from playing lottery

Rep. Joe Tolson has concerns about plan

TARBORO — If you receive public assistance or are in bankruptcy, you will not be able to  buy lottery tickets if the Republicans have their way.

North Carolina Republican lawmakers are discussing draft legislation designed to prohibit sales of lottery tickets to people who receive public assistance or are in bankruptcy.

The Insider reports that Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, said the measure is among several targeting the North Carolina Education Lottery that may come up during the legislative session.

“We’re giving them welfare to help them live, and yet by selling them a ticket, we’re taking away their money that is there to provide them the barest of necessities,” Stam said.

Stam said it would be difficult for store clerks to know which players get help. But Stam suggested that in obvious cases, such as when customers pay for groceries with food stamps, they shouldn’t be allowed to buy lottery tickets at the same time.

Although a bill has not yet been introduced, Rep. Joe Tolson, D-Edgecombe has concerns.

“We can’t control what people on public assistance do with their money,” he said. “I hope they are using the money wisely. But what if they rake a yard for $10? How can anyone deny them from using that $10 to buy a lottery ticket? These are the things that we will have to discuss.”

With the Republicans claiming the majority in General Assembly in the November election, if the bill is introduced, it can easily be passed. Of the 120 members in the House, 77 are Republicans while the Senate has 32 Republicans out of 50 members.

“They (the Republicans) are driving the agenda — they are in control,” Tolson said. “They can do whatever they want.”

There are several stores in Edgecombe County that sell lottery tickets. In November, Edgecombe County distributed $2 million in food stamps to 16,521 people from 8,211 households, according to Betty Battle, Edgecombe County Department of Social Service deputy director.

The N.C. Education Lottery passed the Senate in 2005 by the slimmest of margins, with a 24-24 party line vote that was broken Beverly Perdue, who as the Lt. Governor at that time, voted in the event of a tie.

Now that the Republicans are back in charge, they are proposing to remove the word “Education” from the N.C. Education Lottery for advertising purposes. Stam said the word “education” shouldn’t be used to sell “something that is essentially a scam,” especially because lottery proceeds account for a small percentage of state education funding.

“It’s just inappropriate to take what is a very important function of state government ... and use that as a selling point, when obviously the more educated you are, the less likely you are to play the lottery,” he said.

Stam said he believes many lottery ads are deceptive because they don’t state the probabilities of winning particular prize amounts. The lottery advertises large cash payouts, he said, but the actual prizes are smaller after taxes and other deductions. The fact that the lottery doesn’t give the actual values of prizes when advertising larger amounts is “just fraudulent,” he said.

Alice Garland, executive director of the lottery, said last week that she believed taking “Education” out of the title would cut into lottery sales.

Lottery spokesman Van Denton said officials haven’t fully reviewed all of the legislative proposals to gauge the potential impact, but he did say the lottery tries to keep up with best practices in the industry.

“We work hard to make sure players have the information they need to play the lottery ... and to make good choices about how to spend their money,” Denton said.

Although the odds of winning each different prize amount aren’t listed on each ticket, they are available on the lottery website and in the lottery “play centers” at retail locations. The lottery also publishes on its website the number of prizes remaining at all prize levels in scratch-off games

(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)

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