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Treasurer pushes plan to create ‘iLottery’

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg says the State Lottery must modernize.
State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg says the State Lottery must modernize.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg is advancing her plan to create a so-called “iLottery,” filing a bill with the state Legislature on Wednesday that would authorize the Massachusetts State Lottery to offer games over the internet and through smartphone apps.

Goldberg has repeatedly argued that the lottery, despite posting record profits last fiscal year, must modernize to attract new gamblers and keep revenue flowing in. The money is ultimately distributed to cities and towns, which use it to fund a variety of municipal services and projects.

The bill filed Wednesday would let the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission decide most of the important details, including which games might be offered online, how large the prizes would be, and how winners would be paid.

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But the measure does outline some broad requirements: The lottery would have to verify that online players are 18 or older and located in Massachusetts. It would also need to implement a system allowing compulsive gamblers to exclude themselves or set spending limits. And players would have to make payments with a debit card or via a direct bank transfer, not with a credit card.

For convenience store owners, who fear losing their lottery commissions if players switch to online buying, the bill includes a clause that would require the commission to promote traditional retail sales. The state would also let convenience stores sell prepaid gift cards that players could then redeem online.

An earlier bill that would have created a committee to study an online lottery died in the Legislature this summer. Lawmakers are expected to take up Goldberg’s bill next year, though its political prospects are uncertain.

Opponents, such as Northeastern University’s Public Health Advocacy Institute, have already blasted Goldberg’s proposal as “disgusting,” arguing that online lottery games would appeal to teenagers, harm those with gambling addictions, and disproportionately take money from low-income residents.

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Goldberg, for her part, has said an online lottery will actually make it easier to enact controls on the contests. An online system would also give the commission gigabytes of data on players’ habits over time, allowing it to tweak the games for maximum appeal.

While internet lotteries are already ubiquitous in much of Europe, results have been mixed in the handful of US states that currently offer them.

In 2014, Minnesota introduced an iLottery, but was forced to pull the games after the Legislature and advocacy groups objected.

Michigan currently offers scratch tickets, draw games, and Keno online. Online sales have totaled more than $147 million since the system’s debut, Michigan lottery officials have said, and retail sales have increased, not decreased, over the same period.

But critics note that most states with online lotteries still derive the vast majority of their revenues from traditional retail transactions. In Kentucky, for example, officials expect that of nearly $1 billion in projected total sales over the current fiscal year, just $7 million will come from online play.


Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.