From Sentinel and Enterprise
By Amanda Burke
Before leaving the Legislature for a role on the Cannabis Control Commission, former state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan introduced a bill to allow online state Lottery games.
Four of the five declared candidates seeking to succeed her in the Senate expressed qualified support for making the games available online.
Flanagan's bill was eventually held in committee, but state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg's office has filed another bill that would bring state gambling products online, a measure supported by Executive Director of the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission Michael Sweeney.
Advocates of the bill say New Hampshire's decision to allow online lottery sales will cut into the commonwealth's lottery revenue, a concern echoed by state Senate candidate and current Leominster City Councilor Claire Freda, who is running as an independent.
Freda said if Massachusetts does not move toward online lottery the state will "lose our competitive edge" when New Hampshire goes online with lottery sales as early as January or February. The Granite State also recently legalized Keno.
Freda said she worries people won't come to Massachusetts to play Keno. She said offering lottery online alongside games played in store will ensure cities and towns continue receiving robust municipal aid through lottery revenues.
"Our cities and town rely on this money; it's a huge piece of municipal aid," she said. "Anything New Hampshire does certainly affects our area more than others because of our proximity to the border."
Freda said more study must be done on how the state could prevent people from falling into debt if online lottery goes online, where new games could be initiated with a few taps on a screen.
Credit cards are not currently an accepted form of payment for Massachusetts Lottery products, and Sweeney said they would not be used for online sales, according to the Sun Chronicle.
Fitchburg City Councilor and Democratic state Senate candidate Michael Kushmerek said he supports online lottery "with some reservations."
Bringing lottery online could expose more young people to potentially addictive forms of gambling, he said.
"You have to be careful to have safeguards in place to provide both intervention services and education, particularly to younger individuals before they come of gambling age," said Kushmerek.
Online lottery's greater accessibility is also a boon for the state as people who are limited in their ability to travel, naming elderly people and those without a vehicle, could purchase lottery tickets online.
Kushmerek said he worried about the impact of online lottery on local convenience stores that "contribute to our economy, provide jobs and contribute to our tax base."
He tossed out the option of capping on the number of lottery games a person could play online in a given period of time. To continue playing, that person would have to purchase a ticket at a physical retailer, he said.
"That allows some of those brick-and-mortar stores to retain some business," he said.
Democratic contender Michael Mahan, a member of the Leominster Planning Board and trustee of Fitchburg State University and HealthAlliance Hospital, stopped short of endorsing a cap on online game play.
Mahan said the state doesn't currently limit the number of cash transactions a person can make for lottery tickets at a retail establishment. He is "not even sure that's a business the state wants to get into, because it would be hard to monitor."
Mahan said he believes that if "we do this right the whole system can work well."
Mahan said that while "we need to be realistic in the fact that we know this is going to head online -- all commerce is moving online," he worries about the impact online lottery would have on small businesses.
Mahan said municipalities could use the aid they receive from lottery sales to help local convenience stores.
"You could make sure that those business have sidewalks, or that their street is well-paved," he said.
An alliance of six retail locations Save Our Neighborhood Stores decried the proposal for online lottery in a statement to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection, saying the introduction of iLottery will "decimate foot traffic in their stores and present numerous other challenges to the already struggling business owners."
In an emailed statement, Republican Fitchburg City Councilor and Senate candidate Dean Tran said his first priority as state senator would be to encourage economic growth.
He said that he supports the use of technology to increase convenience and efficiency while being mindful of "unintended consequences."
Careful study, Tran said, must be done on any proposal for online lottery to see whether it would "adversely impact mom and pop stores and brick-and-mortar retailers, which are a key foundation to economic growth in our district."
The only candidate who seemed to oppose online lottery was Democrat Sue Chalifoux Zephir, a city councilor-at-large in Leominster.
Chalifoux Zephir said she's critical of the pitch made by Goldberg and Sweeney that online lottery would appeal to a younger demographic. She said millennials she knows don't have extra money to spend on lottery tickets, naming student loans as a prohibitive expense.
"I'm not sure if they had discretionary income they would spend it on lottery," she said.
Adults ages 35-79 are significantly more likely to play the lottery than those under 24, according to a 2015 study by the University of Massachusetts School of Public Heath and Health Sciences.
Chalifoux Zephir said the state needs to search for new sources of revenue beyond the lottery, reiterating her support for the Fair Share Amendment, the "millionaire tax" wherein those with incomes over $1 million would pay a 4 percent surtax.
"It's my understanding that our state Lottery has produced record amounts of cash for the state," she said.
Lottery sales fell 2.7 percent in fiscal 2017 compared with the year prior, according to the state Lottery Commission. But at the same time, lottery profits rose for the third consecutive year to an all-time high of more than $1 billion in fiscal 2017. Those profits are divided up and given as aid to each of the commonwealths 351 municipalities.
Chalifoux Zephir joined the chorus of lawmakers cautioning of the effects of online lottery accessibility on those prone to addiction.
"It would really hurt people who have problems with gambling; if people just have a credit card that they're using to gamble online, they could overspend," she said.
The Democratic primary is scheduled for Nov. 7, the same day as municipal elections in Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner. The special election will be held on Dec. 5.