Campbell cautions against headlong rush to online lottery

ATTORNEY GENERAL Andrea Campbell has been reluctant to dive head-first into the debate over whether to move state lottery games online, steering clear of unconditional support or opposition to such a move. But she continues to wade in on the issue in ways that signal a wariness toward expanding the state-run gambling enterprise. What’s more, her latest comments suggest the AG’s concerns may be centered on the very type of online games lottery officials want to launch to draw in younger players. 

Lottery officials have been pushing for years to expand their offerings beyond ticket sales at brick-and-mortar retail outlets. The launch earlier this year of online sports betting has only intensified that call. 

The House responded by tucking an outside section into its 2024 budget proposal authorizing online lottery, but the Senate did not follow suit. That makes it one of several contentious issues that must be resolved in closed-door negotiations now underway in a six-member House-Senate conference committee. 

Gov. Maura Healey, who opposed casino gambling in the past, has said she would support online lottery to boost the Bay State’s competitiveness, taking up lottery officials’ line that the state needs to keep up with online sports betting. 

With the fate of the issue unclear, Campbell reiterated her concerns yesterday and said online lottery, if approved, should be restricted to players who are at least 21 years old. Lottery ticket buyers at retail outlets only have to be 18. 

“As we emphasized in the context of mobile sports betting, all online gambling, no matter who is offering it, presents significant consumer protection and public health issues,” Campbell said in a statement. “We must have guardrails in place, including safe and responsible app design and game offerings, 21+ age restrictions to protect our schools and young people, and marketing that informs consumers rather than misleads them. Our office pushed for these requirements from private mobile gaming operators and we must require at least as much from the state itself.”

What Campbell means by “safe and responsible app design and game offerings” isn’t clear, but it suggests concern over the very kind of game offerings anticipated here and currently offered in the seven other states with online lotteries. Those include instant online “scratch” ticket games at price points ranging from 10 cents to $20 that can, as CommonWealth reported earlier this year, “have the energy of a slot machine.” 

That slot machine energy seems to be what Campbell is worried about. It’s what concerned Sen. John Keenan of Quincy during the Senate budget debate. He questioned the push to expand gambling, saying we know that it is “highly addictive” and “hits the same receptors in the brain as does an opioid.” 

Campbell seems to be staking out ground that tilts against online lottery – without directly opposing it – perhaps because she’s not eager, in her first year in office, to go up against House leadership or the governor who played a big role in getting her elected.

Retail store owners are strongly opposed to online lottery, which they fear will cut into their sale of lottery tickets. Lottery officials have insisted that won’t happen and that online lottery will target a new and younger market. 

“We’re trying to attract a new and emerging generation, and there’s a sense of urgency and a sense of immediate gratification that this emerging generation has,” Mark Bracken, the lottery director, said during an April legislative hearing on online lottery. 

Whether the state wants to expand the pool of gamblers for its games, with the new revenue as well as addiction problems that come with it, is the question lawmakers have to answer.