Lotteries may gamble on Internet

By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY

Several states are considering selling lottery tickets on the Internet, a change that could usher in a new era in how such tickets are purchased.

Online lottery sales would be limited to residents within the state. But Internet lottery sales are expected to spread quickly to other states if the practice proves popular, advocates of the idea say.

"Every state is looking at it," says Georgia state Rep. Terry Barnard, a Republican whose bill authorizing Internet sales passed the Georgia House of Representatives last month. The Senate adjourned before taking action.

State officials hope the Internet will boost lottery sales, which have been sluggish in some states because of competition from casinos and Internet gambling.

"The bottom line is: It will make more money and help school funding," says Illinois state Sen. John Cullerton, a Democrat. The Illinois Senate approved online sales April 14 and sent the bill to the House.

"I've said for 10 years that Internet lottery sales are just around the corner, and I may finally be proved right," says Charles Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs the Powerball lottery.

Internet sales are "the next logical step to make life easier for our players," says Rick Wiser, executive director of New Hampshire lottery, which was the nation's first when it began in 1964.

Forty states and Washington, D.C., have lotteries. Oklahoma will start one in October and is looking at online sales. North Carolina also is considering a lottery.

Lottery sales were $49.4 billion in 2004, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. Once prizes and administrative costs were paid, $15.1 billion was left in revenue for states. Throughout the USA, 64% of lottery profits go to education funding, the association says.

Internet sales have drawn opposition from gambling opponents. "My biggest concern is that teens could get lottery tickets and start gambling online," says Guy Clark, chairman of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.

Internet lottery sales will expand a bad public policy that hits hardest on the poor, who spend a greater portion of their income on tickets than the affluent, says Alicia Hansen of the Tax Foundation, which studies tax policy. "If one state starts, other states will follow because legislators feel they have to compete to get all the revenue they can," she says.

Cullerton says Internet sales would bring more affluent families to the lottery, reducing states' dependence on the poor to drive sales. "This is no more an expansion of gambling than putting a new lottery terminal in a convenience store," he says.

Legislators are placing tight restrictions on Internet lottery sales. Georgia would limit sales to $5 per day and not allow credit card purchases. Debit cards could be used. A buyer would have to open an account and show identification in a convenience store before purchasing tickets online.

Cullerton says teenagers and out-of-state residents can be kept from playing the lottery by requiring identification to open an account.