NC lottery meets education funding goal

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Associated Press Writer
RALEIGH (AP) ó The North Carolina lottery has met its annual moneymaking goal for the first time thanks to a $26 million transfer Monday to a special education fund that helps pay for public school and higher education initiatives.
The transfer means the North Carolina Education Lottery gave $350,012,385 in net profits and other income to the state for the fiscal year that ended Monday, just above the $350 million that legislators expected to receive from the games.
ěWeíd always like more, but the lottery is doing what we have expected,î said Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, one of the chief boosters of the lottery at the Legislature.
A year ago, the lottery missed lawmakersí expectations by more than 25 percent in its first full year of operation.
But lottery executive director Tom Shaheen said ticket sales, particularly scratch-offs, began picking up several months ago after the General Assembly approved changes that allowed the lottery to give out more in prizes, making tickets more attractive to players.
Shaheen said his employees are ěgreatly satisfiedî with reaching lawmakersí goal after a tepid 2006-07 fiscal year that had some questioning the benefits of the lottery.
ěI think what theyíve achieved is a level of satisfaction about what they are contributing to the state of North Carolina,î Shaheen said in an interview.
North Carolina became the last state on the East Coast to operate a lottery when the first tickets were sold in March 2006.
The 2005 law creating the lottery required at least 35 percent of ticket sales to benefit education, dished out to efforts to reduce class sizes in early primary grades, expand the More at Four preschool program, help local districts build schools and provide college scholarships to needy students.
Shaheen successfully sought the change that eliminated the 35 percent requirement and allowed lottery games to offer more and larger prizes to increase the payout as a percentage of ticket sales. High Powerball jackpots and a midday drawing also helped boost revenue.
While overall numbers will be finalized in a few days, Shaheen said he expects ticket sales to reach $1.075 billion for the fiscal year that ended Monday, compared to $889 million a year ago.
Net profits for education that year reached $313 million, not the $425 million that lawmakers had projected.
The state lottery commission advised legislative leaders to project $385 million in net proceeds from the lottery for the state budget for the coming fiscal year, which is still being negotiated.
Thatís about $18 million less than Easleyís budget proposal in part because of concerns that $4-a-gallon gas will discourage motorists from buying tickets at convenience stores.