Wednesday April 23 ,2014 : MINNESOTA POLITICIANS MULL BILL TO BAN LEGALISATION OF ONLINE BETTING (Update)
House Tax Committee hearing urged to support new bill.
The Minnesota online betting row appears to be escalating following complaints by some lawmakers last month that the director of the state lottery had overreached his authority in launching limited forms of online ticket buying and scratchcard games
On Tuesday the House Tax Committee was urged by Rep. Ann Lenczewski to support a proposal that would specifically stop any move into online betting by the state lottery.
Lenczewski's bill would prohibit the Minnesota Lottery from selling tickets online for national lotteries, as well as instant scratch-off games that mirror the state's paper scratch-off games.
The director of the state lottery, Ed Van Patten, has defended the initiative, saying that instant online scratch-off games have generated $170,000 in sales since a quiet launch in February this year.
"There is no research, no evidence, and I haven't heard really any allegation of fact that this has harmed anybody, or will harm anybody," Van Petten told lawmakers on the committee.
"That's where retail is going. You have to have yourself out there on the Internet so people can see what your product is," he said.
Brian Rusche, speaking for the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, held up his cellphone whilst addressing the committee and said:
"I don't believe voters ever foresaw that this would become a lottery terminal."
Jake Grassel of Citizens Against Gambling Expansion supported him, claiming:
"It is an instant lottery, instant gratification, which we kind of believe is more like an online slot machine."
Lenczewski's bill would also shut down the play-at-the-pump pilot program, allowing ticket sales at gas pumps, a move that appears to have the support of the Minnesota Petroleum Marketers Association. Spokesman Bill Strusinski commented:
"We want our customers, frankly, to come into the store, to buy a lottery ticket or scratch-offs."
The director of Allied Charities also spoke in support of the bill. Allen Lund said the Minnesota Lottery presumed it had legal authority to move into online games without express consent of the legislature.
"We don't say they shouldn't be able to do some of these things. They need your authority though to do it," Lund said.
Gov. Mark Dayton said he understands that lawmakers want to rein in online gambling, but pointed out that the voters created the lottery.
"So I think within those parameters for the Legislature to be micromanaging how those games are conducted – assuming they're legal and within the Constitution – is not advisable," he said, adding that he wanted to hold an in-depth discussion with the lottery's director to understand and separate what is in the public interest and what is in the monied interests.
"I mean, that gets to the point of whose economic interests is being served,” he said.
Despite all the talking, the committee took no vote Tuesday, but postponed the issue so it could become part of a more comprehensive tax bill at a later point in the Legislative process. The House Commerce Committee will hear testimony on the same bill this Thursday.