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Profits, perception and the Panthers

News flash! News flash! Jerry Richardson is rich! And his Carolina Panthers make money!

We know this must come as a great shock. Who would have thought that between the NFL’s TV, radio and merchandise contracts, sellouts to every game and $7 beers, that the Panthers would be turning a profit?

Reports this week pegged the Panthers’ net income somewhere between $66 million and $112 million over a two-year period. Such private information is the last thing Richardson needed leaked. When you’re asking taxpayers to fork over more than $200 million to spruce up your stadium, having your wealth grabbing headlines just won’t do.

But the news really shouldn’t change any of the fundamentals of the debate. You’ve known, we’ve known and the City Council has known all along that Richardson and the Panthers could probably afford to pay for their own stadium renovations. The question hasn’t been whether Richardson needs the city’s and state’s money. It’s whether, in part because of the owner’s wealth, taxpayers are willing to deny him and take the very real risk that the Panthers will be whisked away within two years after Richardson, 76 and a heart transplant recipient, dies. How you tilt that scale is the same whether the Panthers’ profit margin is 3 percent or 30 percent.

Still, the public can’t help resent being squeezed on every chicken sandwich to pay for fancier video boards at a stadium they cannot afford to attend. The Panthers have run into one roadblock after another, with the biggest being a legislative bill that would kill the city’s plan to increase the restaurant tax. This week’s revelation of the Panthers’ finances doesn’t change much about reality. But it is another important battle lost in the team’s overall PR war.

Betting on education?

We’ve never been fans of the N.C. Education Lottery. For one, it preys on the vulnerable who often can’t afford to hand over their dollars for the longshot chance at millions. Also, like many, we suspect that legislators have long used lottery proceeds to replace education funds, instead of supplementing them, as the lottery was intended to do.

So we get the temptation lawmakers have been feeling recently to poke at the lottery. Some, along with Gov. Pat McCrory, want to scale back what the governor calls “frankly annoying advertising” for the lottery. Another measure would have removed “education” from the lottery’s name – which might be satisfying to some but would result in $6 million in rebranding costs.

The goal, clearly, is to weaken the lottery. That’s fine, but doing so jeopardizes millions – including $457 million in the last fiscal year – that go toward education initiatives. Do legislators have a a plan to replace the money that might go away if they squeeze the lottery too hard? Talk about some longshot odds.

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