RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina officially started its state lottery Thursday, becoming the last state on the East Coast to add state-sponsored gambling.
State Board of Education chairman Howard Lee bought the ceremonial first tickets at dawn, making North Carolina the 42nd state with a lottery.
His purchase of five $1 scratch-off tickets began a planned day of celebration for supporters who have long championed the lottery as a way to raise money for education.
"Today is a great day in the state of North Carolina," Lee said.
Officials expect the lottery to raise $400 million in its first year for education, with the money targeted for class-size reduction, school construction and need-based college scholarships.
Proponents such as Gov. Mike Easley, who made starting a lottery a key initiative after his 2000 election, have long depicted a North Carolina lottery as a way of recapturing money being spent on lotteries in neighboring states.
Brian Hester, of Lincolnton, said he made a 20-minute drive to South Carolina when the Powerball jackpot exceeded $100 million. The start of a lottery in North Carolina is "more a sense of convenience," he said.
In stores across the state Thursday, early customers bought lottery tickets along with their coffee and snacks. When Brian Regling stopped at a Raleigh convenience store, a clerk and the store manager were still reading the instructions.
"It's been too long coming, that's for sure," said Regling, who with a friend scratched off a losing ticket.
North Carolina is starting with just four kinds of instant-win tickets available at more than 5,000 outlets. A variety of new scratch-off tickets will follow, with the multistate Powerball beginning in late May.
The slow start befits North Carolina, where lawmakers first started considering starting a lottery in the early 1980s. The idea gained renewed interest when Easley started pushing it after taking office in 2001, gaining additional steam when South Carolina and Tennessee started their lotteries a few years later.
But resistance to the lottery remained stiff until the end. The state House approved it by just two votes last April. Four months later, Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue broke a 24-24 tie in the state Senate, a vote called only when it became clear that two Republicans expected to oppose the lottery would be absent for the final vote.
Opponents sued, arguing the House and Senate failed to pass the law properly. A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit last week, but it's being appealed.