Lottery tickets can be bought online beginning March 25, making Illinois the first state in the country to sell lottery tickets on the Internet.

Lottery tickets can be bought online beginning March 25, making Illinois the first state in the country to sell lottery tickets on the Internet.


State Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones said Monday that online sales will hopefully attract thousands of new players. Statistic show that 600,000 to one million people support the idea of a lottery, but do not play. The state wants to get those people to buy lottery tickets.


“The idea is for the state to maximize revenue in an ethical and socially responsible manner,” Jones said.  “One of the major problems with this lottery and a lot of lotteries in the United States is that it’s so narrowly based. A finite group of people play a lot, and what a successful lottery is all about is getting a large number of people to play a little.”


And more lottery sales mean more money for the cash-strapped state.  Estimates vary, but Jones said research shows sales of MegaMillions tickets could increase by $78 million to $118 million. Roughly half of that would go into state coffers.


Beginning Sunday, people will be able to go to the lottery’s website http://www.illinoislottery.com/ and with a few clicks register and then buy MegaMillions and Lotto tickets. Those are the only games that are available now, although legislation is working its way through the General Assembly that would add Powerball to the mix.


“It will hopefully be a very easy interface. That’s the key thing I’ve pushed for,” Jones said.  “We want to mirror how people buy products on the Internet now.”


 


Limit planned?


Registration is designed to verify the player’s age and that he or she is buying within Illinois. Players must then use a credit card to establish a fund from which they will buy lottery tickets online.


“They should be in and out within mere minutes,” Jones said.


That ease of play is exactly why gambling opponents think Internet lottery sales are a bad idea.


“With the Internet, people can purchase tickets 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Anita Bedell, executive director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems. “This is a dangerous precedent.”


She said spending $300 a month on lottery tickets “is kind of high if you have someone on a set income.”


Jones said the state also doesn’t want people spending excessively on lottery tickets. A limit hasn’t yet been established, but Jones said officials are leaning toward one of $100 per drawing per account.  MegaMillions tickets cost $1 each, and there are two drawings a week.


Once online sales are fully running, the state will be able to monitor how much people are spending.


“For the first time ever, we can track sales by person, by account,” Jones said. “Right now, I can’t stop someone from walking into a 7-Eleven and buying as many lottery tickets as they want.”


 


Underage players


Bedell also said she is concerned about underage players buying lottery tickets when the purchase is done with a computer rather than face-to-face with a store clerk.


“You have teenagers who are computer savvy who know how to get around safeguards,” Bedell said.  “If they don’t have to buy a lottery ticket in person, no one’s going to be checking the ID.  Someone could borrow a parent’s account or set up a false account.”


Jones said the online system will use the latest technology to verify the age of the player and where the ticket is being purchased.


“We’ll be able to check in nano-seconds whether you are who you say you are and where you are based on where your computer is,” Jones said.


Also, when buying tickets online, players will have to attest that they are over age 18 and buying in Illinois.


“If you are not, that is a violation of rules and we’re certainly not going to be paying you,” Jones said.


He also noted that MegaMillions and Lotto feature periodic drawings that “are not games that have a high degree of action associated with them.” In the past, when officials have found problems with underage players, it’s been with instant games, Jones said.


Doug Finke can be reached at 788-1527.