A skeptical Mass. Senate eyes latest online lottery proposal

As the House pushes again to legalize online sales of Massachusetts lotteries and Gov. Maura Healey signals she supports the move, the pressure is on the Senate — where the measure has died in the past — to close that session decide if they want to continue plank.

Senator John Cronin, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensing, which held a hearing on Thursday on bills that would allow the lottery to sell its products online, said there was “active discussion” in his chamber about this step .

“It’s right at the top of our plate, mostly because we saw it in the House of Representatives budget,” Cronin said. “I think everything is on the table.”

House Ways and Means’ fiscal 2024 budget, unveiled last week, would launch an online “iLottery” that top Democrats say could generate enough revenue to fund $200 million in early childhood education grants use.

Officials included a similar amendment to an economic development bill last year, but the measure failed to survive negotiations with the Senate, whose leaders have at times been reluctant to include gambling legislation.

Since the state launched online sports betting last month, a “deluge” of advertising has flooded the airwaves and a flood of new players have already signed up, Mark Bracken, interim executive director of the Massachusetts Lottery, told the Consumer Protection Committee on Thursday. argues that there should be a “sense of urgency” in expanding the lottery online to compete with sports betting apps.

“Every penny of lottery winnings will be distributed to communities across the state for the benefit of the people 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.”

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Chelsea Turner, chief operations officer for the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, said since the launch of sports betting earlier this year, the number of people calling their bureau’s health hotline for gambling issues and opting to voluntarily self-exclude from betting has increased as doubled.

The average Massachusetts resident spends about $800 a year on lottery tickets — the most in the country and nearly double the average resident in New York state, which has the second-highest spend, Turner said.

According to Turner, if the Legislature and the Governor decide to advance the lottery’s online availability, they should also invest in research into responsible gaming and the social and economic impact of an online lottery.

When asked about problem gambling, Bracken replied that the online lottery system would not accept credit cards and had the ability to set self-imposed limits. Residents could put themselves on a self-exclusion list to not gamble or set limits on how much they could spend each day. Once a player has set a limit on how much they can play in the iLottery system, that limit cannot be changed for 30 days, he said.

Bracken said frequent lottery players don’t usually know how much they play, but in an online lottery system they could track their game history.

The push to bring the lottery online is not just about offering new games to existing players, but also about attracting new players, Bracken said.

“We’re trying to attract a new and emerging generation and there’s a sense of urgency and immediate gratification that this emerging generation has,” he said. “They can easily go to their phone to do a sports fantasy … but if we’re allowed to sell online lottery games, maybe we can catch this player.”

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Bracken also said online lottery games don’t compete with in-person sales at brick-and-mortar stores, but representatives from the Massachusetts Package Stores Association and the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association questioned whether that was true and said their members feared Lost revenue when players went online.

“We’re talking about Massachusetts openly competing with private retailers and using state dollars to advertise against them,” said Robert Mellion, executive director of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association.

Representatives from the Massachusetts Municipal Association also spoke before the committee Thursday in favor of all iLottery revenue going directly to cities and communities, like money generated by in-person lottery games.

The State Budget of the House Ways and Means Committee would use proceeds from the online lottery for the Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) Early Education Scholarship Scheme.

“We appreciate the interest in expanding lottery operations to be competitive in this rapidly emerging market. But again, just because of the overall overwhelming needs of cities and communities, we want to make sure all proceeds are consistent with the lottery’s mission because iLottery would go to cities and communities in a similar way – this is incredibly, incredibly important for MMA and for cities and communities,” said MMA Senior Executive and Legislative Director David Koffman.

Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has been trying to get permission to sell lottery products online for years, and Healey made news last week to signal her support for iLottery.

“We have casinos in the state. We also have DraftKings here in the state, and there’s a lot of money spent there by a lot of people. What we also have is a lottery system that currently isn’t competitive like a DraftKings,” Healey said. “Nothing against DraftKings, but the lottery, that’s money going back into towns and cities. Money spent on DraftKings goes to DraftKings.”

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