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But despite significant legislative progress last year, and mounting pressure from Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, some state lawmakers remain skeptical of online lottery sales.
Complicating an already complicated landscape, the state’s only operational casino, Plainridge Park Casino, is asking the legislature to take a cautious approach, intimating online expansion could hurt land-based gaming enterprises.
At a recent legislative hearing, Plainridge General Manager Lance George said the following, according to the Sun Chronicle: “It’s very important for the Legislature to be rigorous in its evaluation of any policy change that affects job and revenue creation in industries that operate brick-and-mortar facilities, and even more so when those industries are new to the commonwealth.”
It appears at least some local lawmakers share Plainridge’s concerns.
“Online is a bad idea,” State Representative Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro) told the Sun Chronicle. “It is a proposal because the state knows it will make money on this, which makes it borderline predatory.”
Heroux’s district happens to abut the town of Plainville where Plainridge Park Casino is located.
The question is, is there enough pushback in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to stop an online lottery bill?
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At the end of the 2016 legislative session, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a bill, introduced by State Senator Jennifer Flanagan, that would have allowed the Massachusetts State Lottery to sell products online. That vote was 39-1. The Massachusetts House of Representatives didn’t hold a vote on the bill.
Earlier in the session, Goldberg filed a similar bill, but the proposal wasn’t acted on by the legislature. Goldberg announced she would be introducing another online lottery bill in 2017 during a speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in October 2016.
This leaves the ball in the House’s court.
Goldberg wasn’t always a vocal advocate of online lottery sales. While she campaigned on a platform of modernizing the lottery, she wasn’t completely sold on online sales.
“It’s hard to control and we obviously have issues in our society with addictive gambling,” Goldberg said at the time.
But since taking office, Goldberg’s views on online lottery sales have become more resolute and are in veritable lockstep with her predecessor, Steve Grossman, a firm supporter of online gambling.
The reason for Goldberg’s shift likely has to do with the numbers, and the changing gaming landscape in Massachusetts.
“Between the impending arrival of casinos, increasing competition from daily fantasy sports, the overall shift to online versus point-of-sale transactions, and our aging Lottery demographic, we have no choice but to pursue new solutions,” Goldberg said during a legislative hearing in December, according to the Sun Chronicle.
“We must join the 21st century if this business is going to continue to thrive and meet its mission,” she said. “The internet has proved to be a lucrative and beneficial business platform.”
Goldberg and others believe online sales, coupled with the introduction of some new products (examples here and here), could attract new, younger players.
During a G2E panel discussion titled Intersection of iGaming and Lottery, all three panelists were in agreement that even though lottery sales were up in a number of states last year, the spike was likely caused by an inordinate amount of massive Powerball jackpots and rising scratch ticket prices.
In fact, the number of people participating in the lottery is declining, and growing older, according to the G2E panel.
As Goldberg told the legislature, the numbers are good, but they won’t be if the state rests on its laurels.
“It’s true that we are leading the nation for Keno sales, and many longtime customers continue to play the game in restaurants and other locations across the commonwealth,” Goldberg said at the legislative hearing last month. “However, the Keno market is virtually saturated, which is why we have begun preparing for a period of stagnation.”