Last month, New Hampshire became the sixth state to put its lottery games online.
While the state casts adding online gambling to its revenue opportunities as a customer-service measure, it’s clearly meant to drive revenues. And because of the nature of lotteries and the specific money structure of New Hampshire’s setup, the move could easily turn out to be bad for some Granite Staters and many of the retail outlets through which the state sells its paper dreams.
Like online sports betting, poker or daily fantasy sports, players set up an iLottery account and put money in; they then can buy tickets to periodic drawings, such as Powerball or Mega Millions, or instant-win tickets, which it calls e-Instant games.
There are eight options for the latter, based on the lottery’s “scratch” tickets sold at stores throughout the state. They’re remarkably easy to play. A “demo” of each game is available, and according to that, the screen indicates how much money you have and how much you’re spending to play — both good and necessary features — and offers a visual of a typical “ticket” for that game. You “scratch off” the hidden numbers or symbols by clicking on them to see if you’ve won.
The downside is this: As long as there’s money in your account, you can immediately hit “play” again. And again. And again. In fact, we found it almost compelling to hit play over and over until a winning number came up. One might even call it addictive.
This comes on the heels of the state’s adding keno to its arsenal last year — though sporadically, as communities can vote whether to allow it. One thing both new moves have in common is that they put gamblers in front of a screen and make it really easy to place the next bet.
On the site, there is a link offering help to those with gambling problems, but instead of it being prominently displayed, or even found under “help,” it’s accessed by clicking “Play responsibly” under the heading of “NH Lottery Partners” on a menu at the bottom of the page. Even then the screen offers generic tips such as “Know the odds” and “Keep track of how much money you spend playing.” You have to scroll down to find any overt reference to “problem gambling” and the term addiction is never used.
We understand the desire to market one of the state’s most successful “products” in positive terms, but when that product has the ability to ruin lives, a reasonable effort ought to be made to acknowledge that reality and make clear that help is available. A button or link for those with addiction issues ought to be prominent. We’d argue it belongs on every lottery page — and every Liquor Commission page — but it seems especially necessary on the iLottery page, where players would see it BEFORE clicking on the scratch game of their choice.
The N.H. Lottery is extremely good at marketing its games, especially scratch tickets. For the year ending June 30, it sold $331.8 million in tickets — $238.3 million in scratch tickets. That was a record, and up nearly $15.4 million. Over the past decade, the lottery has tied scratch tickets to professional sports teams (show your loyalty!) and even put out scratch-and-sniff tickets (Mmmmm, bacon!). At least the latter can’t be transferred online — yet.
Between the pressure of other states ramping up their lottery offerings, adding casinos and eyeing sports gambling regulations that could include a piece of the action for the government, perhaps it was inevitable New Hampshire would take steps to protect its stake. And technology is making everything more convenient these days.
But it’s disappointing more isn’t being done to offset the impact of that convenience by addressing addiction with funding and heightened awareness. And we wonder what retailers — who last year earned a collective $5.7 million in commissions, but who also count on sales to drive customers to their businesses — think about being cut out of the loop.
The biggest upside is the revenues from lottery sales, earmarked for education. Last year, lottery sales accounted for $76 million in school funding. And of course, if playing at home, at work or on your phone means even more sales, then more money will go to funding schools.
That makes for a powerful argument in favor of both the lottery’s existence and for boosting sales. But those increased revenues don’t come without a price, and while it may be a price Granite Staters on the whole are willing to pay, we’d argue there’s a responsibility on the part of the state to do everything it can to lower that price.