Online lotto guardrails necessary to avoid 'public health crisis,' AG says

If lawmakers and Gov. Maura Healey move forward with authorizing an online lottery this session, the state's top law enforcement official is urging proactive action to "prevent a potential public health crisis."

Attorney General Andrea Campbell warned Tuesday that irresponsible gaming could go hand-in-hand with gambling addiction, alcoholism, substance use disorder and poverty as the House pushes forward with the governor's support to expand games from the state's Lottery onto digital platforms.

"We want to make sure from our office's perspective that it is responsible, that it is fair, and that they are really looking at the technology and making sure that it's not encouraging folks to bet when they don't have any money or play when they don't have any money. Because if we actually are ahead of this and proactive versus being reactive, we can prevent a potential public health crisis," Campbell said at a breakfast hosted by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

The House's fiscal year 2024 budget would launch an online "iLottery," which top Democrats say could generate enough revenue to steer $200 million toward early education grants.

Supporters including Interim Executive Director of the Massachusetts Lottery Mark Bracken have have argued that the Lottery is at a disadvantage since sports betting — and especially mobile sports betting — have taken off this year, and private companies are racking up profits.

"Every single penny of the Lottery's profits are distributed to communities throughout the state for the benefit of those who live there," Bracken said last month, testifying in favor of legalizing online Massachusetts Lottery sales. "Sports betting and casinos, meanwhile, are a for-profit business. In order for the Lottery to continue to meet and exceed its goals, we need to operate like any other 21st century company — we need to make our products available online."

Representatives pursued the iLottery last year in an economic development bill, but the measure did not survive negotiations with the Senate, whose leaders have at times been hesitant to take up gambling legislation. But with support from Healey, who in 2014 supported an effort to repeal the state's casino law, online lottery backers think it might be the right time.

With the chance of more gambling moving online, Campbell talked Tuesday about the work her office has done with the Gaming Commissions since sports betting has rolled out throughout the state.

"I, along with the team, have no objection to sports gaming or the sports gaming and mobile sports betting, and we know consumers may enjoy these products. Our office is, however, concerned about the excessive marketing, the addictive nature of betting on an already-addictive device," Campbell said.

Her concerns include the design of online betting applications to encourage more betting, privacy and data collection, and payment to third-party influencers who encourage consumers to place specific bets "knowing it is probably a losing bet."

The attorney general's office has cautioned against irresponsible betting and advocated for "meaningful guardrails" for mobile wagering in the past.

Campbell's office recommended updating advertising regulations to ban sports betting ads from social media platforms unless "adequate controls are in place" to prevent those ads from being shown to people younger than 21 "including by use of age category exclusions and similar mechanisms."

"When you're talking about an addiction, when it comes to gambling, other addictions also come into play too," Campbell said on Tuesday. "Whether it's alcoholism, substance use disorder — folks who end up in poverty and what that does for their family, what that does for communities. And so we'll continue to follow the conversation at the State House about whether or not this actually happens, and we'll have more conversations with operators in the gaming industry, and... work in partnership with them."


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