Massachusetts State Treasurer and Receiver General Deborah Goldberg says the time to modernize the state lottery is now. And by modernize, she means moving it online.
In fact, Goldberg told business leaders at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Forum this week that if the Massachusetts Lottery does not go online soon, it may become irrelevant. Particularly, she said, in the face of increased gambling competition across the state:
“If you have sports betting, and casinos, and fantasy sports, and the Lottery does not go online, it will shortly become irrelevant. It’s very straightforward.”
Casino gambling is on the verge of exploding across Massachusetts.
State lawmakers passed the Expanded Gaming Act in 2011. This led to Penn National Gaming opening up the Plainridge Park Casino slot parlor in Plainville in June 2015. It is the state’s first casino. However, it is just the beginning.
The Expanded Gaming Act also authorized the construction of two commercial casino resorts in the state.
MGM Springfield and more
The $950 million MGM Springfield is scheduled to open in Springfield on August 24. It will feature a 250-room hotel and 125,000 square feet of gaming space. The casino will include 3,000 slot machines, 100 gaming tables, a poker room, and high-limit VIP gambling area.
Additionally, the $2.4 billion Encore Boston Harbor (formerly Wynn Boston Harbor) is scheduled to open in Everett in 2019. The casino there will feature 150,000 square feet of gaming space with more than 3,200 gaming machines and 165 table games.
But that’s still not all.
At least one Massachusetts-based Native American tribe is opening a casino. Plus, others have expressed the desire to do the same. Construction on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe‘s $1 billion First Light Resort & Casino in Taunton is wrapping up. It plans to open up this summer.
Massachusetts legalized daily fantasy sports in 2016. It could soon do the same for sports betting, after the US Supreme Court lifted a federal ban on the activity in May. Add that into the mix and Goldberg said the Massachusetts Lottery needs to do something to compete. Plus, if it doesn’t act fast, it could be too late.
The last thing Mass wants to be is Toys R Us
Goldberg likened the state lottery’s situation to that of massive toy store chain Toys R Us. A company that started online sales too late and is now facing the consequences of that. Toys R Us announced plans to shut down on March 15 and is now running liquidation sales in its more than 800 stores across the US.
Goldberg is asking the state’s Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee to push the online lottery bill on its agenda forward. It has until Friday to do so. Committee House Chair Rep. Joseph Wagner previously claimed online lottery legislation will not move forward this year. However, Goldberg said if it doesn’t, the entire state lottery could end up just like Toys R Us:
“We don’t want to be late to the game. The way I articulate it to people is the last thing I want to be is Toys R Us. Going online is critical in continuing to maintain profits, stay relevant — and when I talk profits, remember it’s local aid.”
The office of the State Treasurer and Receiver General runs the Massachusetts Lottery. Of every dollar the Massachusetts Lottery takes in, 72 cents is paid out in prizes to players. Another 5.7 cents is paid out to the estimated 7,500 lottery retailers selling tickets across the state and 1.9 cents is spent running the lottery.
Massachusetts Lottery profits
The remaining 20.4 cents goes straight to the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns in the form of local aid. In fiscal 2017, that amounted to $1.039 billion. It was the first time lottery profits exceeded $1 billion.
However, Goldberg warned lawmakers in December it could be the last. In fact, she predicted Massachusetts Lottery profits would drop to $968 million in fiscal 2018 and $965 million in fiscal 2019 without some action to modernize its offering.
Goldberg vowed to keep explaining the facts of the Massachusetts Lottery’s current situation to lawmakers. However, she said they may need to see the money distributed across the Commonwealth drop first before they get it:
“These dollars are so critical to every community, and I think if you were to start to see a decline in allocations to the local communities, that’s when local elected officials and members of the Legislature will start to say, ‘Oh, wait a minute, we need to make sure this doesn’t happen.'”
Goldberg is up for re-election. She is running unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face off against Lakeville Republican Rep. Keiko Orrall in November.
Orrall has expressed an interest in having the Massachusetts Lottery directly participate in sports betting.
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