It's a question some legislators are asking, especially as Lottery sales are slumping. Lottery profits are key because they go back to the state's cities and towns.

"There are people who say, 'If I could do it on my phone, then I'd participate, but I don't have time to go to the store or I don't have cash,' " said Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster.

Her bill to expand the Lottery into cyberspace passed the Senate over the summer, 22-17, but the provision was later dropped from the economic-development bill signed by Gov. Charlie Baker. Flanagan said she hopes the bill gains traction early on in the upcoming session.

"Everything is electronic now. Look at the online sales for the holidays. So what's the difference with people participating on their phone?" Flanagan said. "We have an obligation to have this conversation."

On the other hand, some area legislators are opposed to expanding gambling in any form.

"In a $40 billion budget, there are other ways to increase local aid to cities and towns," said Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover. "Why have people who are struggling financially get access to gambling by turning on a computer? That's not a way to solve our economic problems.

"We have to look at how we're spending our tax dollars," he added.

Over the first five months of the fiscal year, the Lottery has sold $11.5 million less in scratch tickets and draw games, and profits from the Lottery are projected to fall about $22 million short of fiscal 2016 totals.

Scratch ticket sales, in particular, are down $43.5 million, or 3 percent, according to Lottery Executive Director Michael Sweeney.

Profits made by the Lottery are distributed to the state's 351 cities and towns, many of which are dependent on state aid to provide local public-safety, public-works and education services.

Sweeney had been pushing this past session for an OK from the Legislature necessary to move forward with an exploration of online opportunities for the Lottery. He has said for months that the Lottery must have the ability to move online in some fashion if it is to continue to thrive and return hundreds of millions of dollars to cities and towns.

"This is assistance that goes right back to the cities and towns," said Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell. "Online is something we should definitely look at to reach a different demographic, and to continue bolstering municipalities' bottom line. It should be strongly considered."

However, Rep. Rady Mom, D-Lowell, said the state already has too much of a gambling problem.

"What are we trying to accomplish with this? What are we trying to gain?" Mom said. "We need to do more research on this.

"We have many other issues to deal with," he added.

Convenience store owners, who rely on the Lottery to attract customers to their stores, have strongly opposed a move to the Internet, which also raises concerns about the age of players and gaming safeguards.

Recently, Republicans seized on falling sales of Lottery scratch tickets to challenge the leadership of Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, blaming her for failing cities and towns that depend on Lottery profits for local aid.

Goldberg late last year cautioned lawmakers that the string of record Lottery sales will not continue unless the Lottery adapts to compete with the state's growing casino gaming industry and daily fantasy sports contests.

"This is where the future is headed with the younger generation on their phones," said Sen. Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell. "At the minimum, we should be embracing a study to see what online would entail.

"We need to look to the future, and deliver this in a responsible way," she added.

The states that offer online lottery games are Illinois, Georgia, Michigan and Kentucky. In addition to those states, Delaware's lottery offers casino-style online games.


http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_30689104/push-expand-lottery-online




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