[toc]If you’re from Massachusetts, you’re not surprised by the state’s quick about-face regarding online lottery over the course of the past year.
But that’s not the Massachusetts way. Instead of a second step forward, online lottery took a step backwards this year. Lawmakers introduced a bill, but it sat idle for the entire session. Much to the chagrin of online lottery supporters.
This is typical in Massachusetts.
State Treasurer and online lottery proponent Deborah Goldberg summed it up at a recent meeting:
“We’ve been very clear for several years now what the Lottery needs. I don’t want to wait until we no longer have the level of profits we have, I would like to be more proactive. But that doesn’t seem to be happening.”
One step forward and two back
State Senator Jennifer Flanagan’s online lottery bill sprung to life during budget talks in the summer of 2016. Massachusetts seemed poised to join the ranks of online lottery states in 2017.
As the 2016 legislative session wound down, Flanagan’s bill ended up attached to a jobs bill. It passed the Senate by a 22-17 margin. Then it ran out of steam and time in the Statehouse. However, its progress led to the optimistic appraisal that the Massachusetts legislature would take another step forward in 2017.
Flanagan’s 2016 effort happened fast and forced lawmakers to decide. Now that online lottery is on the radar, lawmakers are able to fall back on familiar refrains:
“We shouldn’t rush into this.”
“More information and study is needed.”
Governor Baker joins the slow-down movement
And now the Governor Charlie Baker has joined the “let’s take this slow” train. After a closed-door meeting with Goldberg last week, he spoke to the press:
“I think it depends to some extent on the nature of the program model and how it would work and what the consequences would be for retailers and others here in the Commonwealth, and I think there are now a number of states that have run online lotteries for a while and we have real-life experience in other states.”
Baker thinks Massachusetts should take a good look at other states’ experiences before deciding if its right for the Commonwealth:
“Has it had a big impact on local retailers or not? Has it changed the nature of the players in the game? Has it increased revenue? What has been the impact of running an online lottery? And I think those are questions at this point we can now answer because we have a bunch of states that have run online lotteries for a while.”
What are online lottery’s chances next year?
With so many high-profile supporters, and with its northern neighbor legalizing online lottery and keno games this year, the hope was Massachusetts would give online lottery a serious look in early 2018.
Baker’s comments point to the state putting the issue on the backburner, with hearings and perhaps a special commission to study the issue on the agenda.
On the other hand, if Massachusetts lawmakers talk to states with online lottery, they’ll quickly discover their fears are unfounded.
And with New Hampshire about to take two bites out of Massachusetts lottery apple, the Bay State doesn’t necessarily have time to sit around on its hands.
A study in Michigan found that far from being cannibalistic, the introduction of online lottery is beneficial to brick & mortar lottery retailers.
Online lottery also offers new consumer protections. Moreover, it is capable of implementing more robust responsible gaming policies, such as setting deposit and wagering limits.