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Lucky for Missouri? Changes to Federal Law Pave the Way for Online Lottery Sales

Missouri and 43 other states are considering how to proceed now that the government is looking at an old law in a new way.

It's a fantasy many of us have indulged in: Imaging what we would do if we were to strike it rich overnight with a big lottery win. 

I'll own up to doing so. I've gone so far as to tell friends and co-workers I would not be one of those folks you read about who continue clocking in a work every day. Not me.

If I won the lottery, I'd be traveling the world first class as soon as my lump sum check arrived. No annual payments for me!

Problem is, I don't buy lottery tickets. As I purchase my groceries or fill up my tank at the gas station, I just don't think about it.

The gift of gaming?

So, what if a person could buy lottery tickets online? Would I be more likely to work these purchases into my routine if I could simply log on to a website and, with a few clicks, come closer to untold riches?

Along with the rest of Missouri, I may soon have the opportunity to find out.

On Christmas Eve the Department of Justice played Santa with the gift of gaming. It reversed itself on the 1961 Federal Wire Act, which made online gambling that crossed state lines illegal.

The law was originally crafted to prevent offshore sports betting books from taking wagers via wire from bettors within the U.S.--not, of course online, but via telephone.

The Department of Justice published this statement: "interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside of the reach of the Wire Act."

That means open season for online lottery sales (along with online poker and casinos). And, that means potentially billions more money for Missouri's public education coffers.

Missouri money

Money from lottery sales started going toward Missouri's public education system in 1992, when voters passed Amendment 11 earmarking lottery proceeds to solely benefit public education. 

The Missouri Lottery reports that, since then, lottery sales have brought more than $4 billion into the state's public education system.

In 2011, more than $259 million from lottery sales went toward education.

So, access to lottery tickets online is a good thing, right? Maybe.

Gaming grows

Millions of Americans gamble in one way or another. Here are some facts and figures:

  • Statistics show about 85% of us have gambled at least once in our lives. (National Problem Gambling Awareness Week, 2011)
  • The numbers of people who have "never gambled" have been dropping since 1975. In that year one in three people had never rolled the dice; today it's one in seven. (National Problem Gambling Awareness Week, 2011)
  • A 2008 survey commissioned by the Missouri Gaming Commission found the "propensity to gamble among residents of the Missouri gaming market is estimated at 26.7% (28.4% when age adjusted)."

Translation: More Americans gamble than ever. About a quarter of Missourians are likely to gamble.

Hooked on the lottery

The National Council on Problem Gambling says between two and three percent of the U.S. population will have a gambling problem in any given year.

The term "gambling addict" may bring to mind the image of an unshaven, dishelved man desperately rolling the dice in a garish casino. But can playing the lottery also be addictive? 

It's hard to find statistics about people who are addicted to playing the lottery, but I came across an article in which an official from New York's problem gambling agency said, "for gamblers the Lottery is 'the biggest problem in New York state.'"

The article continued, "the New York Council on Problem Gambling found that 40 percent of calls to its hot line in 2005 were by people with troubles related to lottery games. The next-highest category, casinos, triggered 27.4 percent of calls; no other category was in double figures."

I also came across a blog that cited a Florida gambling report: "Florida, among other states, is finding that most of its gambling addiction hotline calls are received due to state lottery problems."

Rolling the dice, or not

I emailed the Missouri Lottery public relations folks to ask whether our state is planning to take advantage of the changes that will allow online ticket sales.

Susan Goedde responded, "Missouri is in the early stage of researching and monitoring what others are doing in regards to this new ruling."

It's hard to argue with the billions of dollars that benefit the state's education system. And, ss with all diversions and behaviors, an individual must decide whether rolling the dice--or buying that scratch off ticket--is something she wants to do. 

But just because we can do something, should we? I am glad to hear that Missouri is taking a careful look at this issue before it gambles on online lottery sales.

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