@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

AG Stein warns lottery officials against online scratch-off games

Posted January 28, 2020 4:48 p.m. EST
Updated January 28, 2020 7:03 p.m. EST

— North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is warning state lottery officials not to get involved in online games.

The state lottery commission has been debating so-called "digital instant" games since at least 2017, and most members are pushing to move forward.

The online scratch-offs look and play a lot like video poker. Players deposit money into an account and then play and spend as much as they want, even on their phones. Winning tickets are credited to the account.

The colorful, fast-moving games are designed to keep people betting, and lottery officials say they're the future of the industry – attractive to younger players who'd rather play on their cellphones than go out and buy a scratch-off ticket.

Commission Chairman Courtney Crowder estimates that the online games could eventually bring in an extra $80 million to the state each year.

But many people say the online games are too much like video sweepstakes, which are not legal in North Carolina.

Stein sent a letter to lottery commissioners this week saying, "these games may qualify as video games that we as a state have banned."

Roxboro Police Chief David Hess, who also is president of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, agreed.

The digital instant games would "make it virtually impossible to enforce the existing ban on illegal sweepstakes gambling," Hess told commissioners.

"We’ve not received that guidance up to this point," Crowder responded.

Commissioners are considering adding the online games next year, but Crowder said they're not quite ready to vote yet.

"It’s really not about gaming for the sake of gaming," he said. "It’s really about making sure that we are moving forward in a way that is consistent with the values of the state, focused on returning proceeds for public education in the state of North Carolina."

Critics across the political spectrum say that, just like video sweepstakes, the online games are designed to be more addictive than the real-world lottery.

"When you expand and expand over the internet, sadly, the harms increase dramatically," said Jere Royall, director of community impact for the North Carolina Family Policy Council.

Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania already offer online games, meaning that they can be played in North Carolina as well under state law if the lottery commission approves.

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