Pandemic pushing states to reconsider online lottery sales


us-state-lotteries-online-sales-coronavirusUS state lotteries are taking a fresh look at the concept of selling tickets and other lottery products online as the COVID-19 pandemic decimates retail sales.

This week, Massachusetts state treasurer Deborah Goldberg updated the government on the state’s finances, which included details of the Massachusetts Lottery’s performance after the outright closure of one-quarter of its 7,500 retail points of sale, while additional retailers have stopped selling lottery products due to a shortage of staff or to minimize people unnecessarily congregating inside small shops.

The Lowell Sun quoted Goldberg saying total Lottery sales last week were down “almost 33%” from the same week last year. Keno, “one of our best performing products,” reported sales down 53% in April, while instant ticket sales were off nearly 29%. Goldberg said the figures “dramatically exposed the limitations and vulnerabilities of the Lottery’s all-cash, in-person business model.”

Massachusetts has made furtive attempts at approving online lottery sales but could never seem to convince either legislators or the general public that the time was now. But with pandemic-related expenses soaring and revenue falling, Goldberg urged the legislature to “carefully consider statutory changes that will allow the Lottery to modernize so it is better positioned to weather future crises.”

Massachusetts is hardly alone in seeing its lottery sales tumble over the past month or so. Numerous other states have reported double-digit declines, particularly in draw tickets, which led interstate products such as MegaMillions and Powerball to reduce their minimum guaranteed jackpots, eliminating much of the ‘sizzle’ that typically draws in casual players.

On the flip side, the handful of states that currently offer online lottery products – including Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania – have reported surges in online sales since the pandemic took hold, although not always enough to offset falling retail sales.

The retail declines – and the associated reductions in state funding for education, senior care and other social programs – have led some states to declare lottery operations ‘essential.’ The Intercept published a lengthy piece on Thursday detailing the absurdity of this declaration and the threat this poses to the health of lottery staff, as well as to the general public from infected individuals possibly infecting others while waiting in line.

In Canada, several provinces offer online lottery sales, and Quebec recently took the bold step of eliminating all retail sales for the foreseeable future, forcing lottery players to visit Loto-Quebec’s Espacejeux gambling site if they want to keep playing. Workers in other provinces are pressing their lottery monopolies to follow suit.