DC Lottery's launch of e-Instants parallels Rhode Island's surprise launch in summer 2020

The DC Lottery Becomes The First To Jump Aboard The Online Lottery Trend In 2021

Washington, D.C., is the latest jurisdiction to have begun offering instant online lottery games, and the third in the past year.

Its game supplier is IWG, short for Instant Win Games. IWG also provides game content for the New Hampshire and Virginia lotteries.

The games first appeared on Jan. 18, but it seems to have been a fairly soft launch. There has been little in the way of official communications about it from the DC Lottery save for a couple of low-key tweets.

The DC iLottery currently offers entries to two interstate draws, Powerball and Mega Millions, as well as e-Instants. The former are identical to their retail equivalents.

The instant internet lottery games vary in presentation, with some resembling physical scratch tickets and others feeling more like online slots. There are currently 11 games on offer. These include one custom title, DC Payout, featuring the lottery’s own cherry blossom logo as a bonus symbol.

Such custom titles are a unique selling point for IWG. Its first such product in the US was for the New Hampshire lottery last summer and has proven quite successful.

The DC Lottery joins seven state lotteries that already offer instant online games:

  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Virginia

In addition to these, another six states offer online sales of draw tickets, either individually or by subscription. Other states lack online lotteries, but some permit third-party companies like Jackpocket to take online orders and buy draw tickets on players’ behalf.

The DC online lottery has its own site, but it doesn’t feature prominently on the main lottery website. Rather, you’ll find it hidden away under the Games tab if you want to access it from there.

Skipping the lawmaking step

Most iLottery launches over the years have attracted more attention than DC’s, because they came about by way of a legislative effort.

Adding an online component to a state lottery is rarely complicated, legally speaking. Many bills have been as simple as inserting the words “including sales over the internet” or something similar into the original law establishing the lottery itself.

What we’re seeing now, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, is that even that step might not be necessary.

Getting lawmakers to formally authorize an online lottery averts the possibility of legal challenges down the road. However, DC is the second jurisdiction to have skipped this step and allowed the lottery to authorize online games itself, through its own internal rule-making process. Rhode Island did something similar last summer.

As with Rhode Island, DC’s decision to add online lottery games — and to do so quickly — seems to have been sparked by falling retail sales during the pandemic. The Rhode Island Lottery did so through the same procurement rules it used to find a supplier for sports betting. The DC Lottery drafted new emergency rules to do so, which it issued on Dec. 15.

These emergency rules are temporary, set to expire on April 14. Presumably, the lottery expects to issue final, permanent rules through normal processes in the meantime.

DC Lottery passes over its usual, controversial partner

Online instant games have generally been a popular addition wherever they’ve popped up. They’re easier to implement and less controversial than online casinos, and gradually growing in popularity. Michigan was an early adopter, and its online lottery sales had been increasing steadily each year, even before the pandemic.

Assuming the reception in DC is similar, it may be the first popular decision the DC Lottery has made in some time. Its reliance on Greek company Intralot as a technology provider has been the source of multiple controversies and a lawsuit.

Intralot’s relationship with the lottery goes back many years. Problems first arose when the Lottery chose to extend that relationship and award it a $215 million contract to supply online sports betting in the District without going through a competitive bidding process.

That sparked a lawsuit from a local software developer, Dylan Carragher. That was dismissed in November, and sports betting has moved ahead unimpeded. However, its execution has also been problematic.

The biggest issue seems to be the unfavorable lines and limited markets Intralot offers. It and the Lottery presumably felt they could get away with a high hold because they hold a quasi-monopoly for online betting. The result, however, has been that Intralot’s product is losing out to private operators like William Hill, despite the latter only being able to offer retail betting and geo-restricted online betting in the immediate vicinity of Capital One Arena.

Those failures and criticisms may be the reason the DC Lottery went with IWG to provide its instant games. Intralot also develops such products, but there would have been immediate and predictable backlash had it been handed yet another no-bid contract following the sports betting fiasco.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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