The Minnesota Lottery is betting it has found a way around the Legislature’s limits on how it sells lottery tickets.
We hope it’s a losing wager.
In 2015, the Legislature passed a law to prohibit the state agency from selling tickets online or at unconventional sales points such as ATMs and gas pumps without legislative approval. That was just a year after the lottery made Minnesota the first state in the nation to sell scratch-off tickets such as Gopher 5 and Powerball online.
Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a similar bill in May 2014, while acknowledging that then-Lottery Director Ed Van Petten had an arms-length relationship with lawmakers and urging better communication.
Van Petten resigned later that year and Dayton appointed Robert Doty to the lottery job in April 2017. But the message from lawmakers was clear: We want to be involved in decisionmaking about expansion of lottery games online and elsewhere.
Apparently, the lottery still doesn’t agree with that. Last month, it became the first in the nation to allow its tickets to be available via a smartphone app called Jackpocket — “made with love in Brooklyn,” the app says — with a 7 percent reseller fee.
There are some limitations — you have to be in Minnesota when you place your order (verifiable by GPS), scratch-off tickets aren’t sold and the daily purchase limit is $100 — but clearly it’s the type of thing the Legislature wanted to be kept aware of, at minimum.
The app company and lottery officials believe the sales are allowed by statutes for lottery service businesses. Adam Prock, the lottery’s communications director, told the Rochester Post Bulletin this week that “the Lottery negotiated memorandums of understanding” with Jackpocket and with Lottery.com, “to encourage them to follow industry best practices.”
“However,” he said by e-mail, “the Minnesota Lottery does not authorize nor is it in any way affiliated with entities currently selling lottery tickets via the internet.” Legislators contacted in late June by the Star Tribune, including state Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, were not impressed by that logic. Neither are we. The intent of the Legislature was to control the expansion of gambling and to require legislative input. Neither has occurred with the lottery’s latest gambit.
Davids calls the lottery’s actions “legally dubious” and says, “The implications of moving toward online sale of lottery tickets for consumer protection and public welfare are enormous.” He asks that the lottery suspend the arrangement with reseller services until the issue is resolved.
There may be an argument for allowing a limited number of lottery tickets to be sold online, though we’re not sure what it is. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May that opens the door to sports betting is the next frontier for gambling expansion, and rest assured that gambling moguls always will find clever new ways to separate you from your money.
But the lottery’s latest venture is too clever by at least half.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ROCHESTER POST-BULLETIN