Senate vote critical to online Mass. lottery push

BOSTON — A decision on whether to allow the Massachusetts Lottery to sell its products online is poised to be part of the Senate’s consideration Thursday of a $4.3 billion economic development package.

Sen. Paul Feeney filed an amendment (#527) that largely mirrors the language adopted by the House in its own economic development bill last week. If the Senate were to adopt the Feeney amendment, the proposal would be cemented as part of legislation that appears likely to reach Gov. Charlie Baker this month.

Online Lottery authorization was not included in the bill when Senate leadership rolled it out this week. Like the House language, Feeney’s amendment would remove the prohibition that prevents the Massachusetts Lottery from selling most of its products online. Citing increased competition for gambling dollars from casinos, daily fantasy sports and sports betting, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has been asking for that power for years.

“What we’ve seen is a shift in consumer behavior. Think about our own lives, especially in this pandemic in the last couple of years: You go onto your phone now and you order your groceries, you pick them up curbside; you go and you order a pizza tonight, you order dinner and you pick it up outside the restaurant; you go to Amazon and you order your office supplies, you do it on your phone. Yet you can’t go and buy a $5 scratch ticket or you can’t put a bet on the daily number,” Feeney said in April when he withdrew his online Lottery amendment to the Senate’s sports betting bill. “What we’ve seen as consumer behavior shifts more and more into this online presence is that we are precariously balanced, where a new generation of Massachusetts Lottery players may not do what many before them did and walk into a location and actually buy a ticket.”

Feeney did not respond to a message from the News Service on Tuesday asking about his push for online Lottery authorization. While the House has estimated that its online Lottery language would bring in about $200 million that it would earmark for a new early education and care fund, Feeney’s amendment appears to treat online Lottery revenues the same as current Lottery revenues, which are used for local aid after the Lottery’s expenses are covered.

The Senate has previously supported the idea of online Lottery products -- the branch voted 22-17 in 2016 to add online Lottery authorization to that year’s economic development bill. In that case, the House did not go along and the provision did not survive conference committee talks. But the Senate has changed since then, with most of the turnover involving senators who were in favor of online Lottery in 2016.

There are 23 current senators who voted on the 2016 online Lottery amendment -- 11 were in favor of it and 12, including Senate President Karen Spilka, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues and Majority Leader Cynthia Creem, were opposed. Unless some senators have changed their minds, the fate of online Lottery in the economic development bill could be decided by relative newcomers.

“Certainly I’m willing to hear from my colleagues and hear the strengths and advantages and disadvantages,” Spilka told reporters Monday. “Things change constantly, particularly with anything like an online lottery, so we will have some discussions and get a sense from the members where they’re at.”

The Senate is planning to gavel in at 10 a.m. Thursday to get to work on the 631 amendments filed to the economic development bill.

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