With the state House of Representatives again pushing to legalize online Massachusetts Lottery sales and Governor Maura Healey signaling that she supports the move, the pressure is on the Senate — where the measure has died in the past — to decide this session if they want to get on board.
Senator John Cronin, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, which held a hearing Thursday on bills to allow the lottery to sell its products online, said there’s an “active discussion” in his chamber about the move.
“It’s at the front of our plate, especially because we saw it in the House budget,” Cronin said. “I think everything’s on the table.”
The House Ways and Means fiscal year 2024 budget unveiled last week would launch an online “iLottery,” which top Democrats say could generate enough revenue to steer $200 million toward early education grants.
Representatives proposed a similar change in an economic development bill last year, but the measure did not survive negotiations with the Senate, whose leaders have at times been hesitant to take up gambling legislation.
Since the rollout of online sports betting in the state last month, a “deluge” of advertisements have blanketed airwaves and a flood of new players have already signed up, Interim Executive Director of the Massachusetts Lottery Mark Bracken told the Consumer Protection Committee on Thursday, arguing that there should be a “sense of urgency” to extend the Lottery online to compete with sports betting apps.
“Every single penny of the Lottery’s profits are distributed to communities throughout the state for the benefit of those who live there,” he said. “Sports betting and casinos, meanwhile, are a for-profit business. In order for the Lottery to continue to meet and exceed its goals, we need to operate like any other 21st-century company — we need to make our products available online.”
Chelsea Turner, chief operations officer of the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, said since sports betting launched earlier this year, the amount of people calling her office’s gambling problem health line and opting in to voluntary self-exclusions from betting has more than doubled.
The average Massachusetts resident spends about $800 per year on lottery tickets — the most in the country, and almost twice what the average resident spends in the second-highest-spending state of New York, Turner said.
If the Legislature and governor decide to move forward with making the lottery available online, Turner said they should also invest in research into responsible gaming and the social and economic impact of an online Lottery.
Responding to a question about problem gambling, Bracken said the online lottery system would not take credit cards, and would have the option of self-imposed limits. Residents could put themselves on a self-exclusion list to keep from playing, or create limits on how much they could spend every day. In the iLottery system, once a player puts a limit on how much they can gamble, that limit cannot be changed for 30 days, he said.
Bracken said frequent lottery players usually do not realize how much they are playing, but in an online Lottery system, they would be able to keep track of their gaming history.
The push to move the lottery online is not just to offer new games to existing gamblers, but also to draw in new players, Bracken said.
“We’re trying to attract a new and emerging generation, and there’s a sense of urgency and a sense of immediate gratification that this emerging generation has,” he said. “They can easily go on their phone to do a sports fantasy ... but if we are allowed to sell online lottery games, we may be able to catch that player.”
Bracken also said that online lottery games would not compete with the in-person sales at brick-and-mortar stores, but representatives from the Massachusetts Package Stores Association and New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association questioned whether that’s true, and said their members were concerned about a loss of sales with players moving online.
“We’re talking about Massachusetts openly competing against privately owned retail using state dollars to advertise against them,” said Massachusetts Package Stores Association Executive Director Robert Mellion.