State lottery wants legislators to approve bill allowing online ticket sales

BY Eric Bedner | Journal Inquirer

Photo | LinkedIn via Gregory Smith
Photo | LinkedIn via Gregory Smith
Gregory Smith, president and CEO of Connecticut Lottery Corp.
The Connecticut Lottery Corp. is lobbying legislators to pass a bill that would allow lottery tickets to be purchased online, which officials say would increase overall revenue without adversely affecting the retail market.

Under the bill, which went before the Public Safety and Security Committee for a hearing Tuesday, the lottery would be able to sell tickets to all of its draw games on the internet. Scratch games would be excluded.

Gregory Smith, president and chief executive officer of Connecticut Lottery, said the additional option for players is a natural evolution of a more technological world, adding that people have been able to place online bets on horse races since 2013.

Modernization of the lottery is necessary if the state expects to maintain or increase general fund contributions, he said. Smith estimates $50 million in new revenue in the fist five years of internet lottery in Connecticut.

The state would see additional dollars if a large prize is won online because the lottery would not have to pay a commission to the store in which a traditional ticket were purchased. Currently, there are 10 other states that allow purchasing lottery tickets online, and there have been no adverse effects on retail sales, Smith said.

If Connecticut were to move forward, there would be protections, including age verification. The bill also includes problem gambling provisions that would limit daily spending and deposits. Because the service would be online, however, people would be able to gamble with their credit or debit cards.

Rep. Patrick S. Boyd, D-Pomfret, said he struggles with the idea of people gambling with credit, comparing the issue to legalizing marijuana and whether legislators are considering it simply for the revenue without taking into account societal impacts.

Smith also is pushing for the lottery to be part of sports gambling, along with the state's casinos and off-track-betting operators. The lottery, he said, is an ideal partner because it would return about four to five times the amount of revenue the state would receive from other operators because all profits would be transferred to the general fund.

The lottery alone could contribute between $15 million and $20 million from sports gambling, Smith said. Rep. Joseph Verrengia, D-West Hartford, the committee's House chairman, raised concerns that giving the lottery access to the new industry could be dangerous for the general fund because profit margins in sports gambling tend to be slim. While losses in a sporting event "is possible," Smith said, there are losses on individual lottery drawings, but overall revenues consistently increase from year to year.

Officials from the state's two Native American tribes assert that their agreements with the state afford them exclusive rights to sports gambling, an issue that will have to be worked out among the tribes and the Lamont administration if sports gambling were to be offered to any entity other than the tribes.

Regardless of what sports gambling looks like in the state, University of Connecticut Athletic Director David Benedict is asking legislators to prohibit gambling on college sports, particularly on games involving Connecticut schools.

"The university does not support collegiate sports betting generally," he said, adding that gambling on college events "could result in the exposure of student athletes to a new level of pressure and the influence of others."

Committee members also are considering bills intended to address gambling addiction, as well as establishing a Commission on Gaming, which would transfer oversight of gambling from the Department of Consumer Protection to the commission.