ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers are in a lottery pickle: Let sales of virtual tickets continue over bipartisan objections or be forced to find millions of dollars to shut the venture down.
Legislation demanding that the Minnesota Lottery abandon a budding system of instant-play and draw game tickets sold over the Internet is steaming ahead at the Capitol. But legislators were told Tuesday that doing so could deprive accounts that pay for park upkeep, wildlife preservation and other environmental projects as well as leave a hole in the general treasury because of how lottery profits are split.
Lost sales would add up to $8 million within the next few years and vendor contracts would be breached if the Legislature halts the games. Lottery officials are getting an earful over their recent launch of virtual scratch-off tickets, which angered lawmakers because they didn't provide explicit direction to the agency.
"The lottery is way out of bounds here and we have to rein them in and tell them how it's going to be," Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said Tuesday at the first of this week's two House committee hearings.
Lottery director Ed Van Petten insists his agency had authority within existing laws to proceed, citing a legal opinion conducted for a vendor that he said he isn't permitted to release. The new games are essential to keeping the lottery vibrant at a time when traditional brick-and-mortar sales are tapering, Van Petten said.
"We are using this technology to evolve," Van Petten told the House Taxes Committee, which held an informational hearing ahead of a Thursday vote in the House Commerce Committee. "The retail environment has to evolve."
Several states now allow the online sale of tickets for draw games like Powerball, as long as the players live within their borders. Minnesota pushed it further when it began offering scratch-off-type games on its website in February.