The pandemic and changes in Lottery ticket buyers’ behavior might sound the death knell for traditional paper Lottery tickets in the Bay State.

The state Lottery director said this week the Lottery as we know it could become “somewhat obsolete” as tickets sales have plummeted, the stores that sell tickets have been closed for more than two months, and consumers’ focus has shifted to spending on necessities rather than a game of chance.

This should be a huge concern for city and town officials who see millions of dollars in local aid come in from Lottery revenue, which last year set a record with $1.09 billion in profit. Through the first 10 months of fiscal 2020, Lottery Executive Director Michael Sweeney said, the agency’s profit is down $94.7 million from the same time last year, according to State House News Service. 

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has pushed the Legislature to approve online and cashless Lottery operations and is renewing this idea with urgency. In January 2019, her office filed a bill to create an online Lottery, but lawmakers haven’t acted on it since a July 2019 hearing, when some retail groups voiced concern about shifting the Lottery proceeds to the web rather than the convenience store cash register. 

Things have changed dramatically since then; the Legislature should immediately take up the idea of an online Lottery. Rhode Island started online instant games and keno this month, which Sweeney said is “the only logical business model to follow in this world.”

Our lives have shifted to online work, purchases and communications in a big way during the pandemic. Some things will moderate and shift back to in-person meetings, in-store shopping and in-office work. But the high unemployment rate and anxiety people have about their incomes has put a damper on Lottery ticket sales that won’t change soon. And the idea of dropping into a local convenience store on a whim and dropping $10 on the counter for some daily and scratch tickets is a distant memory at this point.

Draft Kings and online sports betting opened the door for the regulated, legal online gambling trade. State lawmakers should put an online state Lottery system at the top of their list to ensure this important local aid source doesn’t dry up and blow away like a losing scratch ticket.

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