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Massachusetts Lottery Officials Renew Push For Online Sales

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March opened with renewed calls from Massachusetts Lottery officials for legislators to reconsider legalizing online lottery sales. The growing calls for a return to the online lottery conversation come amid plummeting sales in a pandemic-affected retail industry. The officials contend that the Massachusetts Lottery runs on an antiquated system. Pointing to modern online lotteries in other states, they assert that municipalities throughout Massachusetts would benefit from the much-needed tax revenue the online market would generate.

Two proposals advocating for online lottery sales have been filed by the Massachusetts Office of the Treasurer and Receiver General. The Massachusetts legislature will have to approve them before they can be reviewed by the governor and signed into law. However, opponents of expanded gaming activity in the state contend that this push is lacking public support.

Stop Predatory Gambling Executive Director Les Bernal has been one vocal contrarian, asserting that “there’s absolutely no public demand for online lottery sales, and state lotteries are preying on people at a time of crisis. By doing this, Massachusetts would be fueling a new epidemic of youth gambling.” Groups like Stop Predatory Gambling focus on the social costs of gambling institutions, their chief contention at this point being that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling online lottery sales would compound the problems already afflicting the state’s citizens.

The lottery has been a considerable source of revenue for the state, amassing more than $1 billion in profits during its 2019 fiscal year. Tens of millions of dollars from those profits are collected by the state in the form of taxes, which are used to fund statewide educational programs and institutions, as well as local governments.

Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg oversees the Lottery and voiced her concerns about the sharp decline in lottery revenues over the last year. Dependent entirely on retail sales, the Massachusetts Lottery didn’t stand much of a chance when COVID-19 forced many lottery retailers to shut their doors.

From March to April 2020, lottery sales dropped by nearly $250 million when compared to the same period in 2019. Goldberg, along with Lottery Executive Director Michael Sweeney, believes that the future of the Massachusetts Lottery is online.

In a recent interview, Sweeney detailed the situation in which the lottery is mired: “We face a significant threat of becoming obsolete if we don’t avail ourselves of the technology that’s out there.” The proposals submitted by Lottery officials have safeguards baked in to address the concerns of those who are challenging the proposed changes. One example includes the use of debit and prepaid cards and the exclusion of credit cards. Additionally, lottery participants would have to submit personally identifying information to verify their age and eligibility to play. In the proposed online system, participants could also set account limits to self-restrict their spending.

“More and more retailers have also made the shift to e-commerce,” Goldberg told her colleagues in the state legislature. “Now that consumers have experienced the ease and security provided by these types of transactions, for most, there is no going back.”

Gov. Charlie Baker has also shown support for the proposed changes. The governor’s preliminary budget included specific language to authorize online lottery sales. According to officials in Baker’s administration, the proposed changes could bring in an estimated $35 million for the coming fiscal year. Another market being considered, legalized sports betting, could bring in an additional $35 million for the same period.

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