Can online lottery sales in Massachusetts be a winning deal?

By: Bob Dumas

Updated:

BOSTON - If state residents get an itch to play the lottery, Massachusetts officials are hoping they will soon be able to scratch it virtually. 

A bill is now working its way through the state legislature which would allow the state to begin the process of offering online lottery sales.

“We need to be where the consumers are, and increasingly, the consumers are online and mobile,” Michael Sweeney, executive director of the Massachusetts State Lottery, said.

Historically Massachusetts has had one of the most successful state lotteries in the country, generating about $1 billion a year in aid to cities and towns.

“Both here in Massachusetts, and other lotteries across the country, are really seeing stagnant growth that ranges from 0 percent, to maybe 1 percent to 2 percent a year,” Sweeney added.

This is why state officials here would like to follow the lead of states like Illinois and Michigan, which currently offer online games.  

Sweeney believes Michigan could be a good example for Massachusetts.

“They started to surpass $8 million a week in sales in 2016," he said.

Luis Blanco and his family own the Don Quijote Market in Boston’s South End.

He said he's concerned about the impact of online sales.  

“Consequences could be less employees, less people working there, less customer base, less traffic into their business, less selling of other items because they go hand-in-hand," he said.

He estimates 30 percent ot 40 percent of the stores sales are the result of lottery tickets.

A coalition of small store owners has now formed to try and block this proposal.  

It’s called “Save Our Neighborhood Stores.”

Blanco said these small retail establishments anchor neighborhoods and need the lottery revenue to keep other items affordable.  

“A lot of store owners, what they do is sell the other products, like milk and bread and your other staples at a reasonable cost, but they really depend on the money the lottery gives them," Blanco said.

One man walking in downtown Boston told Boston 25 News he thought this is “an interesting idea, I mean everyone is buying things online now.”

“It’s going to be convenient for a lot of people, but you're going to have to balance it out because people have gambling addictions," another woman said.

Sweeney believes the lottery can provide consumer protections and not hurt brick and mortar stores.  

He said commerce has fundamentally changed, and “we don't want to be left behind and suddenly generating less revenue for cities and towns.  We are just trying to keep pace.”

If the lottery gets legislative approval, Sweeney said it is possible Powerball and Megamilions would be among the first games offered.

New Hampshire has already approved online games and expects those should be available early next year.

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