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NC lottery may soon offer online scratch-off tickets

Posted December 3, 2019 6:37 p.m. EST
Updated December 3, 2019 7:15 p.m. EST

— North Carolina is one step closer to offering online lottery games.

The state lottery commission has been debating so-called "digital instant" games for at least two years, and most members said Tuesday that it's time to move forward.

"The North Carolina Education Lottery has already been tasked by the legislature to study a number of additional gaming options for the state, and so we consider some of this work, quite frankly, right in line with that," new commission Chairman Courtney Crowder said.

Crowder, who was appointed to head the commission after Tony Rand, a longtime state senator from Cumberland County, resigned on Monday, estimated that the online games could eventually bring in another $80 million to the state each year.

Opponents say, however, that the games are even more addictive than lottery tickets and run counter to the state's long-running battle to get rid of video poker and sweepstakes games.

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.

Lottery officials have proposed limiting people to putting $505 a day, $2,000 a week or $4,000 a month into their accounts, and players could set lower caps to limit their gambling. They can also set loss limits on their accounts, receive notifications when they've been playing for a long time and even lock their accounts for a certain time to prevent them from playing, officials said.

Some lawmakers don’t like the idea of the state getting into the online gambling business, but because the games are offered in other states, North Carolina law says they can be played here as well.

Retail groups also oppose the idea of online scratch-offs, saying players who go to convenience stores and other outlets to buy lottery tickets often pick up other things while they’re there. But they wouldn’t even have to leave the house to play the online games, said Elizabeth Robinson, senior director of government relations for the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.

"We’ve seen over the last probably 20 years a big change in the retail marketplace [with] everything moving to online sales and what kind of impact that’s had on a lot of our local businesses," Robinson said.

The online tickets also would offer larger payouts than the paper scratch-offs sold in stores.

Lottery officials noted that five other states already offer online instant games – Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania – and retail sales of lottery tickets have continued growing in all of those states after online sales started.

The commission hasn’t yet voted to offer the new games, but members anticipate starting next year. On Tuesday, they approved a business plan for adding the games and to start the search for a director and other staffers to handle the games whenever they become reality.

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