Published: February 5, 2023

The Massachusetts Lottery's biggest worry? Soon, you'll be able to make a sports bet on your phone. But if you want to buy a lottery ticket you have to go to a store. The Lottery doesn't think that is a level playing field

BOSTON -- Sports betting became legal in Massachusetts on Tuesday but officials at the Massachusetts Lottery, the most successful lottery in the country, are worried. 

So what is the future of the lottery? 

Let's start with a riddle: is there a way to not match a single number of a lottery ticket, but still get the prize? Head to Waltham for the answer. 

The mammoth $380 million high school-to-be there is being built on a foundation of lottery money.

The Mass. Lottery gave Waltham $11 million last year. The city used 7 million to make a payment on the high school.

It was such a big help that Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy participated in a lottery commercial.

"It goes into our overall budget but I have a $7 million school payment for the new Waltham High School, which is a project that is supported by the community and that helps me there," said McCarthy.

Last year, the lottery brought in $6 billion in revenue. After paying winners and lottery agents, its profits -- $1.1 billion -- went back to the state's 351 cities and towns.

But inflation has taken a chunk.

"Significantly lower numbers," said interim Director of the Massachusetts Lottery, Mark William Bracken. "We are down over $100 million from this point last year."

And now Bracken worries about sports betting -- he thinks if people are betting on games, revenue will take another hit.

"I think it's going to be significant, we could be talking anywhere between 5-10%," Bracken said.

Legalized gambling is projected to bring in $60 million in tax revenue, but the Lottery said that wouldn't offset the its losses.

The Lottery's biggest worry? In just a couple of months, you'll be able to sit on your couch and make a bet on your phone. But if you want to buy a scratch ticket or Megamillions you have to go to a store. The Lottery doesn't think that is a level playing field. 

For ten years, the Massachusetts State Lottery has tried to get lawmakers to allow online lottery games, like virtual scratch tickets, with no luck.

Bracken thinks that will kill them with younger customers. "They don't want to buy a Powerball ticket on a Sunday and wait for that drawing to happen the next day. They want to be able to play something now and see the result now. And that's what online lottery offers," Bracken said.

But is sports betting a real threat?

The president of Encore Boston Harbor told WBZ-TV that their customer, and the Lottery's customer, aren't the same person. She said the lottery is a game of chance.

"I think sports betting is more of a game of skill. You need to have some information on the teams that you are betting on and the odds, so it's very, very different," said President Jenny Holaday.

Bracken thinks the best way to make everyone a winner is to allow the Lottery to have online play.

"We are not against sports betting," he said. "But to allow all these other people to go online ... and then to have the Massachusetts State Lottery to not go online is a little bit of a shame."

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