NC Education Lottery considering new digital games

RALEIGH, N.C. — The possibility of winning thousands of dollars instantly could soon get much closer to your fingertips. The North Carolina Education Lottery is considering new digital games that players could access online.

“Lotteries in the U.S. face the same question that any large sales organization faces because technology is changing the way people buy what they want, buy their products. It is changing the way they seek entertainment,” said Van Denton, spokesperson for the North Carolina Education Lottery.

The Lottery Commission is looking into what is called the Digital Instant Program. Officials call it the most significant opportunity for growth in the lottery industry.

However, not everyone is in favor of the proposed plan.

“When it becomes digital that’s more of an impulse. It’s at your fingertips, it’s online. It’s quick,” said Ward Blanchard. “Tech is becoming a serious addiction.” Blanchard is the founder of the Blanchard Institute an addiction treatment center.

After more than 80 surgeries to repair a damaged larynx he got hooked on prescription pills.

"I was not aware that if I took the bottle he gave me for, in 30 days my brain would become addicted. I had no clue. I never took drugs, alcohol, I never smoked a cigarette when that happened," he said.

He’s equally concerned about the new proposal that would allow citizens to have easy access to colorful, digital games. He said the games could have a similarly addictive effect on people who are not careful.

“Gambling we know triggers dopamine, that reward center in the brain. So people use this as a mechanism to feel better. So that’s when it becomes a problem,” said Blanchard.

Research on the proposed program said it could bring in between $369 million and $554 million in revenue over the first five years. That money would go toward local schools and education scholarships.

“How do we keep lottery products relevant to consumers and how do we meet them where they are? As more and more people choose to buy online, more and more people seek their entertainment online, the question facing the lottery industry is: shouldn’t we be online too,” said Denton.

Denton said the lottery has promoted responsible gaming, a message he said would continue with new online games.

“We don’t want our games to harm anyone. We do recognize these are games of chance. We use research and partnerships with people in the area of problem gambling to try to be as good as we can in that area,” said Denton.

The new games would include deposit limits set by the lottery. If you log on to play, the online system would automatically stop you from spending more than $4,000 a month. Gamers could also set their own limits.

“So, if you say I want to spend $50 a month, you can set that limit for yourself. If you tried to exceed you would get a reminder that you said $50 is all you can spend.”

Alfred Ripley, with the North Carolina Justice Center, said those restrictions aren’t good enough.

"We don't think this new product should be allowed," said Ripley.

He pointed to a lottery sales analysis from 2011 by the North Carolina Policy Watch.

It showed people in some of the highest poverty counties in the state spent the most money on lottery tickets.

"The odds of winning any type of lottery gaming product are extremely low. If you're gonna take money and limited resources from a person who is low income - this is not a good type of transaction," said Ripley.

Blanchard said the new games could be even more harmful to families in our poorest communities.

“So there is a much higher likelihood in these neighborhoods full of stress, violence, high risk, just a higher threatening environment to seek relief in reward behaviors like gambling. So they’re much more vulnerable,” said Blanchard.

North Carolina’s Attorney General Josh Stein sent a letter to the lottery commission. He said he was concerned that the games prey on vulnerable people and risk real harm to communities and families statewide.

The letter from Stein said:

“I am aware that the North Carolina State Lottery Commission is considering offering online, digital instant lottery games. I am concerned that these types of games prey on vulnerable people and risk real harm to both communities and families across the state.”

“Furthermore, these games may justify as video games that we as a state have banned under section 14-306,1A of the General Statutes. The Commission lacks authority to offer video games that qualify as video games.”

“For these reasons, I ask that you not proceed to use these types of digital instant games to expand the North Carolina Education Lottery.”

The North Carolina Lottery said five states are currently using similar games. However, it said more than half of the lotteries across the country are considering adding these games.

The proposal is still under review. The commission would have to vote in favor before the plan would be implemented.

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