Online lottery games would seem to be an inevitability in cash-starved Massachusetts because there is money to be made. But it is a treacherous path to embark upon.
State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, whose office oversees the lottery commission, wants the Legislature to approve a pilot program in which players use a credit card to play digital lottery games through a website or mobile device. Ms. Goldberg told The Boston Globe that online games are "the only way to reach the younger market."
That is surely the case, as young people have an online presence in so many aspects of their lives already. The digital games would likely boost stagnant lottery sales, as they have in Michigan.
However, the ability to play online video games quickly and 24 hours a day is an invitation to gambling addictions and credit card debt. The lottery, which enables legislators to avoid unpopular tax increases, is already a tax on low-income residents who play disproportionately. A digital lottery would constitute a tax increase on them and the young. Also, convenience stores that sell tickets would lose sales and foot traffic.
There are potential safeguards, such as requiring players to establish gambling caps they cannot exceed, but rules are difficult to enforce in cyberspace. If lawmakers take this modest first step and approve a pilot program, they should have no illusions about the ultimate cost.