Minn. online scratch-off game plan draws fire

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Lottery's plan to launch online scratch-off games is drawing fire from gambling opponents.

The group known as CAGE, or Citizens Against Gambling Expansion, is calling on the lottery to halt the plan, due to roll out later this month, until the state legislature has had a chance to debate the idea.

Members of CAGE and a coalition of religious organizations will make their case at a State Capitol press conference Thursday.

"We don't believe the State should be in the gambling business to begin with," Autumn Leva of the Minnesota Family Council told KARE Wednesday.

"We believe that online gaming targets younger gamblers, and will only create more addiction in that age group."

But Ed Van Petten, the lottery's executive director, said safeguards are in place to make sure that gambling losses are capped at $50 for those playing online. That's the limit that current applies to the online lotto-style games, which have been available in Minnesota since 2010.

"There will be no changes in the limitation of play; players will still be limited to $50 dollars per week," Van Petten told KARE.

He said the lottery views this a new option for online wagerers, but not a major expansion over what's available in retail stores where scratch-off game tickets are sold.

"The electronic instant ticket will basically mirror the ticket available at the brick-n-mortar retail," Van Petten explained.

"Of course, because it's an electronic ticket, it will have a little different nuance, or look, to it. And the way it's played with a mouse and cursor will be a little different."

Critics say that lawmakers never envisioned the Internet, let alone online gaming, when they approved the statewide lottery in 1989. But Van Petten says the Minnesota Lottery's own legal counsel and attorneys for the vendors believe online scratch-off games are already legal in Minnesota.

"We're perfectly confident that it is authorized under the Lottery Act of 1989," Van Petten asserted.

He said the move is more about convenience for players than creating new revenue. The state lottery system as a whole exceeds $500 million in sales every year, but the current subscription online lotto games have brought in only $3 million over three years of their existence.

Kyle Taylor of Mankato was among those who bought paper scratch-off games at Bobby and Steve's service station in downtown Minneapolis Wednesday evening.

"I like the old fashioned way a little bit better just for the fact you get to scratch them off, so there's a little more excitement," Taylor remarked.

"Doing it electronically? Every once in awhile that would be kind of cool too."

Taylor said that he's seen friends become addicted to online poker, so he understands how Internet gambling could be a liability for those people prone to addictions.

"But even paper scratch-off games get to addicting. I buy them, and when I win I just keep buying them until I lose."

In a few weeks. Some of the same scratch-off games WILL be available in an online version to those who subscribe the Minnesota Lottery's Internet game site, where tickets to lotto-style games have been available online since 2010.

Critics also complain the online games will more addicting than old-fashioned paper scratch-offs. But Van Petten says the online games are more of a convenience than a money maker for the lottery.


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