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Lawmakers take aim at online lottery games, but nixing them carries costs

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Opposing the online versions of Minnesota Lottery games is one of the few issues that's brought Republicans and DFLers together at the Capitol this spring. But a House committee heard Tuesday that putting a stop to those games would open a hole in the state budget of up to $8 million, the Associated Press reports.

Bills moving through both the House and Senate would discontinue online sales of lottery scratch off games, which are off to a strong start since their February start-up.

Ending the online sales would mean lost revenue and expenses for breaching contracts with vendors. But Session Daily reports House Taxes Committee Chair Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, is ready to pull the plug, saying: “We should not be addicted to gambling to fund our government.”

The Legislature never authorized the migration of lottery games from the paper tickets sold in stores to the Internet. Critics, including groups fighting gambling addiction, argued against the rollout of the online games.

Lottery officials maintain existing law gave them the authority to move online, but the AP notes the anger of legislators such as Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, who said: "The lottery is way out of bounds here and we have to rein them in and tell them how it's going to be."

The House bill also prohibits lottery ticket sales at ATM-style machines, such as those found at some gas pumps.

Just a few weeks ago the website Government Technology – which professes to offer "Solutions for State and Local Government" – featured a story on at-the-pump sales of lottery tickets as a revenue generator.

Minnesota Lottery Director Ed Van Petten tells the site the machines (which offer only Powerball and Mega Millions tickets) are a way to keep lottery tickets in front of the three-quarters of gas buyers who do not enter the convenience stores at gas stations.

At the Capitol Tuesday Van Petten told lawmakers that lottery ticket sales are down, especially among young adults. MPR News says he told the committee that retail is shifting to the Web, saying "You have to have yourself out on the Internet so that people can see what your product is."

Session Daily says the House bill is expected to be amended on Thursday to mirror a similar bill in the Senate.

The Minnesota Lottery provides details here about how revenue is spent.

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