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Critics take aim at online lottery ticket sales

Posted by: under Gov. Mark Dayton, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota legislature, State budgets Updated: January 9, 2014 - 11:00 AM

Gambling opponents stepped up criticism of the Minnesota State Lottery on Thursday as it expands to offer scratch-off lottery tickets for sale on its website.

“Our state should not be involved in predatory gambling by encouraging families to take money from Main Street and blow it on Easy Street,” said Autumn Leva, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Family Council.

Lottery officials continue to quietly expand online offerings in what they hope will become an explosive area of growth for the state-backed gambling franchise.

The lottery’s expansion comes as a coalition of well-organized and well-financed gambling opponents have successfully beaten back numerous new gambling proposals at the Capitol, from a downtown casino to Las Vegas-style slot machines at horse racing tracks.

Lottery officials contend that state law dictates that they do not need legislative approval to expand online gambling options. Lottery officials routinely testify at legislative hearings about their new ventures, but they do not seek a vote of approval.

“The Lottery’s unilateral decision to expand online, without legislative approval … is an affront to the legislative process,” said Jack Meeks, president of Citizens Against Gambling Expansion.

The head of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota challenged lottery officials to allow lawmakers to challenge their expansion efforts. “If the Lottery does not share our genuine apprehension of online gaming being detrimental to Minnesota citizens, they should have no problem successfully navigating the legislative process.”

Online gambling made up less than 1 percent of the state's $560 million lottery business last year. But lottery sales have remained strong, having increased overall revenue for each of the last six years, even during the Great Recession.

Lottery aficionados will have their choice of a host of online scratch-off lottery games, digital replicas of the actual paper lottery tickets they now buy at retailers. Rather than scratching off the ticket with a coin, the customer uses a mouse and a cursor.

Online players can bet up to $50 a week, and problem gamblers can block themselves from the site. The lottery has several ways of ensuring customers are old enough to play and geo-locators to make sure they are in Minnesota.

The push into online gambling began during Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration has showed no signs of slowing under DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

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