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Van Petten said the State Lottery always operates within the law and he is more than happy to share details about its evolving enterprise.
“We have no intention of hiding anything we are doing from anybody,” he said.
Lottery officials do, however, feel a strong sense of urgency to expand online offerings in case the federal government cracks down on new Internet gambling activities by states.
Officials do not envision online gambling going away, no matter how determined regulators are to snuff it out. Companies overseas already serve a thriving subculture of online gambling.
“That horse has left the barn, and that horse left a long time ago,” said Don Feeney, research and planning director for the lottery.
Lottery officials are racing against changing demographics, too.
In 2003, 52 percent of Minnesotans ages 18 to 24 years played the lottery. A decade later, just 29 percent of those in that same age group do so.
“The lottery is just not on their radar,” Van Petten said.
In a digitally driven culture, lottery officials say they must go where the customers are.
Taxpayers have a lot at stake in the lottery’s online push. A fourth of all lottery proceeds fund environmental efforts in Minnesota and the state’s general fund, which pays for schools, health care, public safety and other essentials.
Some legislators say money alone should not be the bottom line, that moral concerns must be a factor.
“To do something this major and drastic, in the darkness of night, without any kind of oversight is just wrong,” said Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater.
She is most concerned about the effect on small businesses and the targeting of new, younger customers.
“It’s an addiction for some people, and the earlier you get into it, the more likely that addiction is going to happen,” she said. “It just seems like in government, we are always trying to find ways to raise more money.”
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