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Minnesota Lottery’s gambling expansion should be halted, says religious group

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By Doug Belden, St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — The state Lottery should get permission from the Legislature before proceeding with an expansion of online gaming, anti-gambling groups said Thursday at the Capitol.

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The state law setting up the Lottery in 1989 did not envision that one day the agency would be offering scratch-off games online, as it’s planning to do in coming weeks, said Jake Grassel, executive director of a group called Citizens Against Gambling Expansion.

The Lottery has shown “blatant disregard for the legislative process,” Grassel said. The Legislature returns Feb. 25.

“It’s not good public policy for the state to act as a defrauder, basically to be planful about gaining more and more state revenues from a device that causes severe social harms,” said Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition.

JRLC is one of the groups joining with CAGE in arguing the social and economic costs of gambling far outweigh any benefits. Other affiliated groups include the Minnesota Family Council, Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.

Minnesota State Lottery Executive Director Ed Van Petten said state law authorized his agency to sell lottery tickets and to decide how that’s to be done.

The Lottery has been offering lotto-style games on the Internet for more than three years, Van Petten said, and “there’s been no question that we had the authority to do that. And this is really no different. It’s just offering another product for sale on the Internet. I don’t even look at it as an expansion. It’s just one more distribution channel for instant tickets.”

Grassel and others see a key difference.

The lotto-type games like Powerball and Mega Millions allow players to select numbers and then find out later through a drawing whether they’ve won.

Online scratch-off allows players to get instant results and to play continuously from their home computers or laptops, which ups the chances for addictive behavior, Grassel said.

What’s worse is the new games are being targeted at young people, which creates the risk of “getting a new generation of Minnesotans hooked on an addictive form of gambling,” he said.

But Van Petten said there are at least 23 other jurisdictions worldwide where these kinds of games are in use, and “there is no evidence” of an increase in addictive behavior. And Minnesota has a spending limit — $50 per week — which most of the other places do not.

Less than 1 percent of Lottery sales come from online games at the moment, Van Petten said, and he doesn’t expect that to increase significantly once scratch-off games come online. He says the experience in Europe suggests the online presence builds brand awareness that prompts players to visit their local brick-and-mortar retailers to purchase tickets.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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