State officials are renewing their push to make Massachusetts State Lottery games available online and through mobile phone applications, a move they hope will attract a new generation of young players.
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, whose office oversees the Lottery, announced in a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that she will file a bill in the state Legislature that would create an "iLottery."
"This is a critical economic opportunity that Massachusetts cannot afford to let fall by the wayside," Goldberg told the group, according to a copy of her prepared remarks. "iLottery will make our products more accessible, so we can appeal to younger players while we continue to serve our existing customers."
She offered few details about the forthcoming bill, such as which games would be available online, how high any spending caps might be, whether prizes must be collected in stores, and how the Lottery will verify online players are 18 or older.
Instead, Goldberg stressed the importance of Lottery funds to cities and towns, which use the money to fund a variety of services, and pointed to the popularity of daily fantasy sports as evidence that younger people crave online gaming.
While the Lottery is coming off a record fiscal year — $989.4 million in profits — Goldberg warned that figure was inflated by unusually large jackpots. An aging customer base and increased competition from casinos are threatening to erode the sums paid to municipalities, she argued.
"Any good businessperson will tell you that you cannot wait and see how the competition plays out," Goldberg told the Chamber. "We must continue to update and diversify our lottery games in order to protect our long-term growth."
Goldberg's announcement drew sharp condemnation from anti-gambling groups, which said online Lottery games will harm those with gambling addictions and appeal to teenagers.
"This is disgusting behavior on Deb Goldberg's part," said Richard Daynard, the president of Northeastern University's Public Health Advocacy Institute, which opposes the Lottery in general as a regressive tax. "Anything that makes it easier for people to bet and lose their money is going to have a disproportionate, adverse effect on poorer people."
Goldberg countered that, compared to buying scratch tickets with cash, digital lotteries actually make it easier to track player purchases, set spending limits, and enact other controls on compulsive gambling. In the past, she has proposed banning players from raising self-imposed spending limits for a period of time after meeting them.
Convenience store owners have also opposed putting Lottery games online, saying it would hurt their revenues.