Illinois Lottery’s online sales turn two; Minnesota online scratchers under fire

minnesota-california-illinois-lotteryThe Illinois Lottery is celebrating the second anniversary of its decision to become the first state in the union to offer online ticket sales. Way back in 2009, Illinois was one of the two state lotteries (along with New York) that formally requested clarification from the US Department of Justice as to whether the 1961 Wire Act prohibited them from selling tickets online, and the DOJ’s late-2011 response not only led to Illinois going online in March 2012, but also cleared the way for states like Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware to launch online poker and casino offerings.

Originally, Illinois offered only Mega Millions and Lotto ticket sales online, but has since expanded that roster to include Powerball sales as well as the launch in January of a mobile app to facilitate ticket purchases on the go. In the two years since March 2012, online sales have totaled $36.9m and two million-dollar prizes have been awarded to online players. Looking back, Lottery director Michael Jones said “it is clear that the age and geography constraints that were key parts of the test are working as designed.” (Successful age-verification? Nobody tell Sheldon Adelson, okay?)

Over in Minnesota, the state lottery’s decision to offer Spicy 7’s online scratch-off tickets is proving problematic. Not for players, mind you, but for luddite politicians who feel the Minnesota Lottery overstepped its mandate. Since their Feb. 6 launch, Spicy 7’s sales are averaging only about $2k per day, but Lottery director Ed Van Petten told local ABC affiliate WDAZ that the scratchers are proving their value as a marketing tool. Van Petten said the state’s 3,100 lottery retailers have seen a $363 rise in average weekly sales since Spicy 7’s went live, demonstrating that “it does in fact increase sales through brand awareness.”

But state Sen. Rod Skoe, the chairman of the Senate Tax Committee, and state Rep. Ann Lenczewski, who chairs the House Tax Committee, have since sponsored legislation in their respective chambers to take Spicy 7’s offline. Skoe says he doesn’t believe “the authority is there” for the Lottery to take this step without official say-so from state legislators. Lenczewski echoed this thought, adding that she was concerned by “the speed and ease of the play … we don’t want people to go through their savings quickly.” Undeterred, Van Petten said the Lottery was “going to go forward with [Spicy 7’s] until we’re told we can’t.”

Minnesota already offers the ability to purchase lottery tickets at state gas pumps, and now California wants in on the action. The California Lottery wants to launch a ‘Play at the Pump’ pilot program that would allow consumers to purchase Mega Millions, Power Ball and Super Lotto Plus tickets at about 100 gas stations in the Los Angeles and Sacramento areas. Consumers would need to verify their age and buy gas before being allowed to purchase lottery tickets, while winnings under $600 would go straight to a player’s credit or debit card. The plan has yet to receive the go-ahead from the state Lottery Commission.