An Online Lottery Will Hurt Main Street Retailers

May 21, 2023 | Online Gaming

Stores cannot absorb another government-induced
revenue hit

Massachusetts (May 20, 2023) — Locally owned retail stores are rightfully up in arms about the inclusion of an online lottery in the House fiscal 2024 budget. As demonstrated through testimony before the Legislature’s  Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, an online lottery system in competition against stores is not needed. The expansion of the lottery online will harm brick-and-mortar retail stores that rely on lottery sales to attract walk-in customers. Indeed, no testimony or data at the hearing objectively proved that stores will not lose in-person traffic. None.

The rationale for an online lottery is that the legislative decision allowing for sports betting in Massachusetts may result in diminished lottery sales. This has not happened. To the contrary, Massachusetts continues to be the best revenue-producing lottery in the United States, and second best in the world.

Six of the last eight years have produced record-breaking profits from a lottery format that has historically partnered with brick-and-mortar stores. It is a model based upon a public-private partnership that has been financially lucrative while being safe and secure for over four decades. This year looks to be another record-breaking year for the lottery.

The real problem is that proponents of expanding the lottery online have not been completely transparent to the Legislature about the impacts to stores. In their testimony before the legislative committee, they relied on “control state” data. Not disclosing that the information was derived from control states is a substantial omission that consequently misrepresented the impacts to privately owned stores.

Unlike New Hampshire, Massachusetts is an “open state” retail system, meaning the outlets that sell lottery tickets are all privately run. An online lottery run by the state will compete directly against these privately owned stores. The state will also advertise the online lottery using public funds. Stores will be negatively impacted.

No one is contesting that Massachusetts has the power to compete against local stores, but that does not make it right. Stores cannot absorb another government-induced revenue hit. Past hits include a statewide ban on flavoured tobacco and local prohibitions on the sale of miniature alcohol bottles.  Competition against recreational cannabis is also siphoning off retail revenues from package stores. So is illegal online purchasing of alcohol products, and the ever-growing cross border sales in New Hampshire. New Hampshire gloats that about 30 percent of its alcohol sales are by Massachusetts residents. Consequently, package and convenience stores heavily rely on in-person lottery sales to boost in-store traffic.

The harm to stores cannot be cavalierly ignored. Main Street’s landscape is already changing in a manner that is not good for Massachusetts. Since 2018, approximately one-third of the stores selling alcoholic beverages have transferred their license to new owners. Last year, 200 retail stores transferred their off-premises alcohol licenses. A transfer means the business is now owned by another corporation or individual.  These were multi-generation businesses that are now gone.

Expansion of the lottery online is not needed but will exacerbate the Main Street retail crisis. The better solution is to support local retail while continuing to buy lottery tickets at locally owned stores. This allows the state, cities and towns, and local retail to win together and not against one another in a competition that may not end so well for Main Street Massachusetts.

The Author: Robert Mellion
Robert Mellion is executive director of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association and administrator of the Alcohol Beverage Training (BAT) & Certification Program that is relied upon by off-premises alcohol retail licensees in Massachusetts.

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SOURCE: CommonWealth Magazine.

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