Should the state Legislature allow the Lottery to offer online gambling?
Jennifer L. Flanagan
State senator, Leominster Democrat
Although the Massachusetts State Lottery is among the most successful in the nation, the reality of changing demographics and technology is threatening the ongoing dependability of our lottery revenue. A major shift has already taken place in society that allows people to do virtually everything on line. Why should the state lottery be any different?
In the face of new casinos and slot parlors, and the explosion of fantasy sports, our lottery and the local aid it helps fund face serious threats. As lottery industry data indicates, younger players have the lowest participation rates, and these will continue to decline. Simply put, the would-be next generation of players does not play the lottery under its existing setup and will not any time soon. These players do have buying power, but their device of choice is a smartphone. They use it for everything. We can book a flight, order dinner, buy clothes, trade stock, or send money across the globe from our phones, but we still cannot buy a ticket for tonight’s Megabucks.
Lotteries in Georgia, Michigan, and British Columbia have adopted new popular apps that verify the identity of the player, link consumers to local retailers, ensure that play is restricted to their borders, and can even limit frequency of play. In fact, the controls are so advanced they provide more interaction and protection than a retail setting – a serious consideration for those concerned about compulsive gambling or underage play. No one can monitor how often a problem gambler buys scratch tickets; interactive lottery gives us that option.
The Legislature should authorize the Massachusetts Lottery to offer some of its familiar games online to attract new players to play both on their phones and in stores. If Massachusetts were able to achieve online sales that were just 10 percent of its regular revenues, it would mean around $100 million in added funding to cities and towns, who rely on lottery revenue to help pay for needed services.
Massachusetts should start cautiously – but it should start. Expanding our customer base will increase revenue and bring a whole new opportunity for people to participate in the lottery, generating ongoing success for years to come.
Milford resident, formerly member of Casino Free Milford
A more honest name for the Massachusetts State Lottery is Taxation by Exploitation because it extracts most of its profits from citizens on the lower rungs of the income ladder and the addicted.
If the lottery were to add online gambling to its portfolio of lotto tickets, daily numbers, scratch tickets, Powerball and Keno, it would only intensify the exploitation already happening.
A fundamental conflict exists between the interests of state-sponsored gambling and the public good: The state is charged with protecting the public from the very business practices that generate more revenue for the state.
Massachusetts records obtained by the open government news organization MuckRock and the Washington-based nonprofit Stop Predatory Gambling show that the Massachusetts Lottery targets specific groups such as young people, women, and low-income people to gamble for the first time by designing or marketing games especially for these demographics. Online gambling would be no different; in fact, given that today’s young people have grown up in the information age with computers, tablets, and smart phones at their fingertips, the lure of online gambling will be irresistible to them. Today’s carefree youth is tomorrow’s gambling addict, with impacts on education, marriage, work, and play all contributing to economic inequality, and worse, an inequality of opportunity.
The lottery also severely impacts all of you who never or rarely use it. According to a recent national report on government-sponsored gambling by the Rockefeller Institute at SUNY Albany, “In the long run, the growth in state revenues from gambling activities slows or even reverses and declines.”
This can put a strain on state budgets, which in turn means higher taxes and cuts in services for all citizens, even those who seldom or never buy lottery tickets. According to an analysis by Stop Predatory Gambling, state lotteries have failed to deliver on promises to expand funding for education and other needed services or to lower taxes. This is why our state lottery is now seeking to expand into online gambling, and why it is inevitably doomed to failure.
If the state needs more revenue for necessary programs, legislators should raise the money through appropriate, fair taxation.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org