No rush to expand Iowa Lottery options

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 8 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:44 am in

By The Gazette Editorial Board

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The Iowa Lottery is exploring the use of new technology to deliver their products to consumers. That’s understandable.

The lottery also says it’s in no rush allow Iowans to play the lottery online, on their smartphones or at gas pumps. We think that’s smart.

Giving Iowans almost constant access to lottery games paid for with credit cards would be a major change, constituting a considerable expansion of the lottery’s reach and scope. Expanded access alone is enough to raise serious questions about its potential for sparking more problem gambling.

And even though the lottery contends that it does not need legislative authorization to forge ahead with online games, lottery officials should, at least, get buy-in from elected leaders who are well-informed about its potential profit and pitfalls.

We don’t want to see a replay of TouchPlay, the lottery’s ill-fated effort to put electronic game consoles resembling slot machines in scores of Iowa convenience stores and other retail outlets. The lottery had the authority to launch TouchPlay, but public outcry prompted lawmakers to abruptly ban the game. That ban led to broken contracts and millions of dollars in legal settlements.

Clearly, online play is not TouchPlay. But the previous debacle shows how developments in gambling technology can move faster than the public’s appetite for expanded gaming. So the lottery’s pledge to avoid rushing into online games is welcome. We hope they sick with the go-slow approach.

It may be, eventually, that Iowa will need to provide online lottery options to remain profitable and competitive, although its traditional scratch tickets and other games are selling like hot cakes. Lottery sales are jumping, according to revenue figures.

The lottery, like all businesses, must adapt. Unlike private businesses, however, the lottery is a public entity that must also consider the common good.

It’s also possible that technology will make the games more palatable to critics. It’s already possible to make sure players are of age and are using a computer or device inside the state of Iowa. We’d like to see more safeguards explored, and perhaps limits on how often Iowans can play online.

The lottery has been a successful, lucrative state enterprise. And it will stay that way, if its leaders are cautious and prudent in their pursuit of the next big thing.

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