Published: July 7, 2019

Mass must compete in the new playing field -We either get the lottery online now or miss the boat completely

We either get the lottery online now or miss the boat completely.

This Monday, Mass Lottery Executive Director Michael Sweeney and State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg appeared before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure to make the pitch for online options for most of its gaming offerings.

Lawmakers on Beacon Hill would be wise to facilitate the endeavor sooner rather than later.  Right now, six states offer full, online lottery gaming with five others offering more limited subscription services.

Indiana is moving toward online gambling to compete with neighboring Kentucky, Illinois and Michigan, all of which allow gaming from smartphones.

Our neighbors to the north, New Hampshire and Maine, have online gambling options up and running. Our neighbor to the south, Connecticut, is also inching forward with online lottery legislation, navigating concerns of the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans, tribes who have casino interests.

Here in Massachusetts, there is great angst that brick and mortar retailers will suffer if lottery enthusiasts choose to gamble via their smartphones rather than walk into local businesses to do it, and there can be no doubt that some will. But thanks to the magic of the internet, which transcends state boundaries, consumers can move their gambling online whether or not Massachusetts chooses to get in on the action.

The focus should be to capture younger players who do most of their transacting through their smartphones and other devices. Millennials and Gen Z do not walk into convenience stores, fill out numbers cards, wait in line and exchange currency — it’s not how they roll.

Massachusetts needs to get into the game or we risk losing indispensable payouts to cities and towns. The Mass State lottery put $997,056,603 back into the state in fiscal year 2018.

For that reason, it is detrimental that online betting options in other states now draw dollars away from Massachusetts. The commonwealth should build out an online gambling platform like other states are doing.

Of course, this course is not without its own risks and pitfalls. The state should take precautions to prevent the system’s use by underage gamblers and abuse by gambling addicts. And small businesses that depend on lottery licenses should be included in the process as well, especially when they are already so burdened by excessive regulations and taxes here in Massachusetts. That is why it is so important to get this right.

State Treasurer Goldberg has said the agency needs to begin offering its games online in order to keep up with changing technology.

“The world has changed with fantasy sports, sports betting, casinos and online lottery in neighboring states,” Goldberg said during her inaugural address. “We do not want to go the way of Sears or Toys R Us.”

She is right. Expanding the Mass State Lottery online is a matter of protecting the interests of the public by giving businesses and the state a chance to compete. It helps neither cities and towns nor the corner store if lottery revenues migrate out of the Bay State and into the Granite State.

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