Mega Millions: Will lotteries and other gambling move to the Internet?

In December, the US Department of Justice announced that it was reversing its position that all Internet gambling was illegal, clearing the way for a potential boom in online gambling. 

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
Photo illustration of an online gambler visiting poker.com.

For the millions of Americans who bought Mega Millions lottery tickets, the waiting is over.

The vast majority lost, as they knew they would in a gamble with mega-long odds (176 million to one). A handful won. The names of those whose tickets matched the ten winning numbers haven’t been announced yet, but state officials in Kansas, Illinois, and Maryland say winning tickets were sold there.

They’ll split what’s left of the $640 million jackpot (combined from 42 state lotteries) after Uncle Sam and state taxing authorities claim their share. Others whose $1 ticket matched some of the winning numbers could be paid lesser amounts ranging from $2 to $250,000 (where the odds still were 4 million to one).

States are the biggest winners. Lottery ticket buyers spent some $1.5 billion, most of which goes into state coffers.

The Monitor's View: The odds and ends of Mega Millions jackpot lottery

Forty-three states now have lotteries, and some gambling advocates are pushing to legalize online lotteries and other forms of Internet gambling.

In December, the US Department of Justice announced that it was reversing its position that all Internet gambling was illegal, clearing the way for a potential boom in online gambling. 

States would have to approve such steps. At this point, only Nevada allows online poker there and the District of Columbia is moving in that direction as well. Minnesota has an online lottery. Other states are considering forms of online gambling – which is practiced illegally via offshore and underground Internet sites.

Some experts warn that legalizing online gambling more broadly would increase the number of problem gamblers.

"If it's legalized, that would put electronic gambling – the crack cocaine of gambling addiction – on every work desk, [in] every living room, [on] every mobile phone," John Kindt, a professor of business and legal policy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a senior editor of the US International Gambling Report, told Monitor correspondent Husna Haq.

"It's just bad social and economic policy," he said. "It's going to expand the social ills and taxpayer costs of addicted gambling and problem gambling. Desperate states will be getting in new lottery revenues at the expense of creating new addicted gamblers and problem gamblers."

Two million adults in the US are estimated to meet criteria for pathological gambling in a given year, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).

Another 4-6 million would be considered problem gamblers, reports NCPG. That is, they do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling, but meet one of more of the criteria and are experiencing problems due to their gambling behavior.

Some three percent of Americans are problem gamblers, according to other estimates, a figure that’s higher for teenagers and college students.

Experts on gambling addiction warn that expanding online betting could make the problem worse.

“Online gambling websites are among the fastest growing and most profitable businesses in existence today,” according to the TechAddiction Information and Treatment Service in Nova Scotia, Canada. “Compared to traditional land-based casinos, online gambling websites are able to operate at a fraction of the cost, do not require tangible materials or equipment (machines, tables, security cameras, a physical building, etc.), and do not need the hundreds of staff that would normally be required for a traditional casino.”

Meanwhile, millions of Americans continue to buy lottery tickets, dreaming of the next Mega Millions event.

The Monitor's View: The odds and ends of Mega Millions jackpot lottery

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