The Massachusetts Lottery did not secure Senate approval last week to begin the process of making its products available online, and time is running short for the Legislature to grant that authorization, the still-hopeful head of the Lottery said Tuesday.
Senator Jennifer Flanagan, Democrat of Leominster, filed a budget amendment that would have given the Lottery the approval it needed to move forward with its exploration of online opportunities, but Flanagan withdrew her amendment during the budget deliberations without discussing it on the floor.
Michael Sweeney, executive director of the Lottery, has said for months that the Lottery must have the ability to move online in some fashion if it is to continue to thrive and return hundreds of millions of dollars to cities and towns.
Flanagan's amendment, which mirrors language she filed as a bill, represented the go-ahead the Lottery was looking for, and Sweeney said Tuesday he remains optimistic the approval will come in another form.
The bill remains under the auspices of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection, which has until June 15 to report the bill out, favorably or otherwise.
"I still get the sense that there's activity at the State House around this issue, and I think clearly their priority last week was the budget in general and that's where the focus should have been," he told the News Service. "So we'll see what happens in the next couple of weeks. I'm not disappointed, it's just part of the internal workings of the State House."
The move to the Internet is critical, Sweeney said, because lottery profits in Massachusetts and other states are becoming "stagnant" and consumers are increasingly turning to their smartphones or the Internet for gaming. The Lottery will have to move online, Sweeney said, if it "wants to stay relevant and, respectfully, not become the next bingo."
"I think the marketplace is getting more difficult, I think consumer tastes are changing, and I think how people engage commerce is clearly changing, it's going online, it's mobile, it's cash-less," Sweeney said. "There are a lot of forms of entertainment that at one time were incredibly robust and incredibly healthy, but very quickly things changed. What we're trying to do is maintain relevance to the consumer."
Whether the authorization comes in the form of its own bill or as an amendment tacked onto the state budget "makes absolutely zero difference" for the Lottery, Sweeney said.
"What we're looking for is clear authorization language that would give us broad authority to explore with the private sector what would be the best avenue to go online," he said. "We're going to take our guidance from the State House leaders on this subject matter."
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who chairs the Lottery Commission, was not available after the commission's meeting.