RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina lottery leaders have taken a key step toward expanding online sales while leaving themselves a way out if they aren’t satisfied with the details or face opposition from retailers or politicians.

The state lottery commission voted on Tuesday for the idea of marketing “digital instants” without officially directing that these online games begin.

Commission members asked lottery staff to present soon a business plan that includes staffing needs, sales projections and a timeline for starting the games. They also want to hear from retail groups in the handful of states that already have such online games about whether they hurt in-person sales at grocery and convenience stores.

The commission still would have to vote again to begin the games, which commission members have talked about for years.

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