Massachusetts Lottery Pushes For Online Expansion For Fear Of ‘Becoming Obsolete’

Posted By George Myers on March 16, 2021

Players of the Massachusetts Lottery could soon have simpler ways to play thanks to cashless and online sales.

Lottery and state officials are pushing to ease existing restrictions on how the lottery can be played. The proposed changes come amid increased online competition and worry Massachusetts is falling behind other states.

The idea’s proponents, including Gov. Charlie Baker, believe expanding and modernizing lottery access could bring millions in additional revenue to an already-strong program.

Officials push new vision of Massachusetts Lottery

The office of State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has filed proposals that would establish the online component of the Massachusetts Lottery and permit debit card purchases of products such as Mega Millions. Safety precautions like credit card prohibition and age verification would be included in an online expansion plan.

Any proposal must be approved by state legislators, but this one has already garnered support in Baker’s preliminary budget. His budget indicates that approving debit card sales would raise $35 million in additional revenue.

To provide context, the Massachusetts Lottery expects to provide $985 million in local aid in the fiscal year 2021. But concerns exist the lottery is not maximizing its earning potential.

“We face a significant threat of becoming obsolete if we don’t avail ourselves of the technology that’s out there,” Michael Sweeney, executive director of the lottery, told The Salem News.

A successful push for lottery expansion would further bolster an industry that recently upped its 2021 fiscal year projection to nearly $1 billion. Profits from the Massachusetts Lottery go toward the state’s 351 cities and towns.

Does MA Lottery need online expansion?

Surprisingly, existing projections for FY 2021 closely resemble the previous period’s earnings despite the widespread impact caused by COVID-19. Such news seems unexpected for a program reliant on in-person sales and games like Keno played in bars and restaurants.

Despite the lottery’s unanticipated success in FY 2021, the unpredictability of last spring remains a motivator for the push toward online sales. Things could have turned out much worse, proponents note.

Regardless, raising just short of $1 billion would be a major accomplishment for the Massachusetts Lottery.

Its success could be used by opponents who believe the upside of increased access is not worth the risk of increased gambling addiction or the time it would take the state to establish such a practice. The argument can be made that things are going just fine.

Advocates are likely to disagree as discussions continue. Per Goldberg:

“Even as we have continued to be impacted by the pandemic, the Lottery team has exceeded expectations while adapting operations to keep people safe. We recognize, especially now, how important lottery resources are to the 351 cities and towns and will continue to meet our mission of helping communities all over the state.”

An evolving landscape in Massachusetts gaming

The ability to operate online could have raised an additional $70 million to $80 million during the spring months most impacted by COVID-19, Goldberg noted when working to convince lawmakers of its likely effect.

Others, meanwhile, have highlighted the popularity of the Massachusetts Lottery app. The app allows ticket scans, winning number checks, live drawings, account registrations and more.

It will eventually allow players to claim medium-level prizes up to $5,000. This further highlights the positive effect of a digital presence.

News of the lottery’s planned expansion also comes amid a push to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts. Baker filed a 2022 budget plan that includes around $35 million in state tax revenue from anticipated legal sports betting.

While hurdles remain, the financial benefits of sports betting make its legalization likely to happen sooner rather than later. Lawmakers can also look to the successes of other states, including neighbors like Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

Combined, expanding the Massachusetts Lottery and legalizing sports betting would turn the state’s gaming industry on its head. And it could put tens of millions of dollars in state government coffers.

Photo by AP / Jeff Roberson
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George Myers

George Myers is a writer with extensive experience in both news and sports reporting. He has primarily covered baseball and football, along with the intersection of sports and lawmaking.

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