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Tie-breaking vote OK's lottery in North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina is set to become the final state on the East Coast to start a lottery after the lieutenant governor broke a Senate tie yesterday, when two opponents were absent.

Supporters have been trying to legalize the gambling game for more than 20 years.

Governor Mike Easley is expected to sign the legislation creating the lottery, a cause he's championed since his election in 2001, at a ceremony today.

Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue, the Senate's presiding officer, sided with most of her Democratic colleagues in breaking a 24-to-24 tie. ''I did what I thought was right," Perdue said.

Polls have indicated that most state residents want a lottery, but the plan appeared all but defeated last week, after backers failed to persuade any of the five Democrats and 21 Republicans who have opposed its creation for weeks to switch their vote.

Yesterday, with two Republicans absent, Senate Democrats had the votes -- with Perdue's help -- to pass the bill. One of the Republicans was on his honeymoon, while the other was at home, recovering from a leg infection.

An April vote in the House was nearly as close, with the lottery bill passing by just two votes.

The lottery is expected to funnel an estimated $400 million annually to education, including public school construction, college scholarships, class-size reduction, and preschool programs.

GOP foes argued that the lottery is an inefficient way to raise money and sends the message to children that gambling is the way to solve financial problems.

But North Carolina citizens already travel to other states to play the lottery, Senate majority leader Tony Rand told his colleagues yesterday. ''The money has been leaving North Carolina," he said. ''It's time to keep it at home."

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