Illinois to Begin Online Lotto Sales Sunday
As Illlinois adults sip their coffee and unfold their newspapers early Sunday morning, state officials say they can also become some of the first people in the country to buy lottery tickets online.
Illinois will become what lotto officials say is the first state in the U.S. to sell tickets over the Internet when the high-security website goes live around 7 a.m. Sunday. Online players will be able to buy up to $10 worth of Lotto or Mega Millions tickets, and state lawmakers are already considering whether to add Powerball into the mix.
The Illinois Lottery estimates e-ticket sales could net hundreds of thousands of new players, and bring in between $78 million and $118 million in new revenue for the cash-strapped state, half of which would fund capital projects. State lawmakers signed off on the online pilot program in 2009, but implementation had been held up pending legal approval from the U.S. Justice Department, which finally came in December.
In Illinois, where lotto tickets must be bought at a licensed retailer, the plan hasn't been without controversy. Some retail groups have worried that online lottery sales, which they say account for up to 50 percent of revenue at some convenience stores, would take a huge bite out of their in-store business. And anti-gambling advocates complain Internet ticket sales could tempt addicts and underage buyers.
But Illinois Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones said the system is secure, and require would-be gamblers to turn over their names, addresses, Social Security numbers and credit card information before they click "buy."
"But there's also the psychological protection that if you attempt to circumvent our rules by playing underage, or playing from outside the state, and you win, we do a winner validation for any prize over $600," Jones said Friday. "And we won't pay you."
Meanwhile, retailers and convenience store owners have been in talks with Jones and Northstar Lottery Group, the private company that runs the Illinois lotto. The store owners had been pushing for a bump in their five percent commission rate to offset a feared drop in in-person ticket sales, as well as a plan to require that online tickets be purchased exclusively using designated debit cards that could only be bought and recharged at brick-and-mortar stores.
But business groups seem to have quieted down after striking a deal to require that Illinois study the effects of online ticket sales on retailers, and the viability of the debit card idea. That plan will be tacked onto the bill that would add Powerball to the Internet pilot program. The amendment is designed to "lift the opposition that the convenience store owners have had," and will likely be introduced next week, according to the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston.
Retailers say they have a symbiotic relationship with the Illinois Lotto. But they're staying vigilant.
"These concerns are not going away, but at least we now - I shouldn't say 'at least' - we now have - or will have - a mechanism to determine whether our concerns play out," said David Vite, CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which represents 5,100 convenience stores across the state.