May 2, 2023 - News

Massachusetts makes a play for an online lottery

Illustration of lottery balls in the URL field of an internet browser.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Online lottery sales could be on the horizon in Massachusetts — if lawmakers approve the latest proposal.

Driving the news: House Democrats last week approved the online sale of lottery games as part of a $56.2 billion state budget proposal.

  • The online lottery also has support from Gov. Healey.

Why it matters: Massachusetts has legalized casinos and, after years of failed attempts, sports betting. Proponents say an online lottery would attract younger customers and bring in $200 million in additional lottery revenue.

  • Retailers, however, say it could cannibalize retail lottery sales and hurt convenience store owners.

The big picture: Seven states have an online lottery system.

Flashback: Treasurer Deb Goldberg has for years pushed for an online lottery to no avail. House Democrats passed the online lottery for the first time last year as part of the economic development bill, but it didn’t make it out of negotiations with the Senate.

  • Senate leaders have been reluctant to approve gambling legislation in previous years.
  • Sen. John Cronin, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, told the State House News Service there's an "active discussion" about online lottery in the Senate because of the House budget proposal.

What they’re saying: "This isn't just something we want to do. Our consumers are demanding this," Mark Bracken, interim executive director of the Massachusetts State Lottery, told Axios last month. "Our players constantly question why we cannot sell our products online."

The other side: Lobbyists representing convenience and package stores say the online lottery would hurt stores' revenue at a time when they're already losing sales to the flavored vape ban and other restrictions.

  • "It's not misleading that they are concerned. They are worried about the loss of in-store traffic, which is real," Robert Mellion, head of the Package Stores Association, told lawmakers last month.

Yes, but: A 2022 report by Spectrum Gaming Lottery Group prepared for Massachusetts officials states that online lotteries in other states did not cannibalize retail sales and can successfully coexist with other forms of gambling, like sports betting.

Details: The budget proposal would create an online lottery system that only accepts debit cards and uses age verification measures to bar people under 18 from buying tickets.

  • The online lottery would also let people self-exclude or self-limit their spending.

What’s next: The Senate unveils its budget proposal later this month and, if it doesn’t include online lottery legislation, lawmakers will debate its fate when they negotiate a final budget bill to send to Healey.

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