Critics slam Illinois lottery ticket sales

Anti-gambling activists and convenience stores line up against state's ambition to sell tickets over the Internet.

December 28, 2011

Alex Keefe and Jennifer Brandel

(AP/Joseph Kaczmarek)
Convenience stores and gas stations that sell winning tickets get a cut of the prize; online sales would lower their chances.

Illinois Lottery officials want to offer lottery tickets over the Internet by next spring, and they're closer to their ambitions now that the federal government recently gave the OK for states to create and regulate in-state, online sales of lottery tickets and other gaming products.

Both the state and gambling critics agree selling lottery tickets online could be a financial boon for state coffers, but such a development could come at a hefty social cost, said Anita Bedell, the head of the anti-gambling group Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems.

"Well, it could be a boon ... but at the expense of addicted gamblers," Bedell said, adding that simple mouse clicks could prove too enticing for some gamblers. 

"They could gamble on home computers, from the office, they could gamble on their cell phones, on their iPhones," she said. "So, it's making gambling too accessible."

Illinois lawmakers approved an Internet lotto pilot program in 2009, but the state had been waiting for legal approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. That memorandum finally came last week, and lottery officials are hoping to begin selling tickets online some time during the first quarter of 2012.

Bedell said she's concerned there won't be adequate safeguards against identity and credit card theft. She also worries there will be no effective means to prevent ticket sales to underage buyers.

State law allows for gambling addicts to exclude themselves from being able to set up an online lotto account, but Bedell said that isn't a reliable system.

Criticism for online lottery sales is also coming from the some of the state's current partners in the brick-and-mortar retail world — namely   gas stations and convenience stores.

Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, said he's worried not so much about the future of the Lotto ticket, as he is about the Lotto customer.

"When somebody comes inside the store to buy a lottery ticket, they're a whole lot more likely to buy something else — whether it's a cup of coffee, a newspaper, a sandwich," Lenard said.

Jim Lake runs a BP gas station in Northwest Suburban Skokie and said the line of customers extend out his door when jackpots are high. Lake is also against selling lotto tickets online. 

"I think it opens up to scam artists and what not, another avenue to try and cheat the state," Lake said.

Currently, customers have to buy Illinois lottery tickets with cash and prove their age by showing ID.

State officials say they'll soon begin developing a website that would limit ticket sales to Illinoisans over 18.

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