Globe Local

THE ARGUMENT

Should the state Lottery be allowed to offer online sales?

YES

Dan Cahill

State Representative, Lynn Democrat, formerly a city councilor at large and a school committee member in Lynn

Mass. House of Representatives
State Representative Dan Cahil

The Massachusetts Lottery was established to generate funding in the form of unrestricted local aid for cities and towns. It has generated billions of dollars for our communities, and the need to preserve and expand those revenues is imperative. This is why I filed legislation allowing the Massachusetts Lottery to create an online platform.

Massachusetts has one of the nation’s most successful, efficient, and innovative lotteries in the nation. For several straight years, annual lottery revenues have exceeded $5 billion. This success is in spite of increased competition.

The casino gaming industry developed in response to lost revenues to neighboring states. Online wagering on horse racing is allowed, and fantasy sports betting was permitted to grow in Massachusetts with a change in law. A Supreme Court decision striking down federal prohibitions on sports betting will likely lead to additional competition. Online gambling options are nothing new to Massachusetts, with one exception: the lottery.

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About six states offer online lotteries, and at least two — Michigan and Georgia — credit them with boosting sales. New Hampshire launched its online platform in September, and in the first week signed up more than 4,000 users.

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Consumer protection technology allows for personal controls such as spending limits, identity, age, and eligibility verification, and GPS location would ensure payers are within Massachusetts’ borders, according to testimony presented on my legislation. Personal and financial data is protected by highly secured software.

Residents with limited mobility, millennials, and infrequent players might be more likely to play the Lottery if they could access it online. With multi-state jackpots, more Massachusetts players participating increases our revenues and the odds of a local winner who in turn pays state income taxes here.

Among those opposing online lotteries are anti-gambling organizations and retailers. Gambling addiction is a serious disease. Treatment options should receive increased funding from online lottery proceeds. Retailers are unlikely to lose customers, but nevertheless the lottery was established for the benefit of municipalities, not solely businesses.

Many forms of gaming are expanding in Massachusetts and our lottery should be allowed to compete. The need to utilize available tools to generate additional funding for municipalities is obvious, unless you believe tax increases are more palatable.

NO

Alex Weatherall

Owner of gas station and convenience store in Sherborn; board member of New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association

Alex Weatherall
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The Massachusetts State Lottery is a jewel in the Commonwealth’s crown. The numbers are remarkable: in fiscal 2018 the Lottery collected $5.29 billion and distributed $997 million to cities and towns, the sole beneficiary of its net profits. Based on per capita spending, our Lottery is the country’s most successful, according to one study. Agreed, finding new ways to market its charms to digital natives is an immediate challenge, and one lottery agents like me are excited to help tackle. But instead of imprudently migrating games online we owe it to our cities and towns to develop market-expanding alternatives that are risk-free.

The lottery suffers from a method-of-payment problem. Lottery transactions remain by and large cash-only. But it’s a long time since cash was king in our economy, and the transition from cash to non-cash is happening fast. Over the past six months in my one little Sherborn store the average dollar-value increase in non-cash transactions, comparing this year to last, month-over-month, is 26 percent. My sales aren’t growing 26 percent; what’s happening is a nearly offsetting reduction in cash receipts.

According to a recent survey, only 41 percent of adults carry cash these days – and 34 percent of millennials never or rarely do. If the lottery could identify low-cost, non-cash payment methods and negotiate an equitable cost-sharing model for its agents, it would solve the method-of-payment problem overnight, boost sales, and avoid leaving 7,500 loyal lottery retailers in the cold. In contrast, online lottery is a drastic departure that puts the lottery in direct competition with its agents and risks luring minors and compulsive gamblers into a spiral of debt and regret.

Retailers rely on lottery sales for the “footsteps” they generate. With online lottery we fear a reduction in footsteps, declining sales, lost jobs, and closed stores. Since 1971, and despite a scarcely profitable 5.7 percent commission on sales, retailers like me have given Massachusetts Lottery some of the most valuable real estate in our shops. I call on the Commonwealth to show appreciation for that loyalty and roll out non-cash payment methods rather than rushing headlong into an online venture that put this jewel at risk.

This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.

Globe correspondent John Laidler solicited opinions for this exchange. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.