The Illinois Lottery appears set to shutter its
online operations this month due to legislative inaction.
Illinois braved the online trail in March 2012, becoming the
first US state lottery to offer online draw ticket sales. But the pilot
program that allowed those online sales to commence officially expires on March
25 and state legislators have yet to authorize its extension.
Republican state Rep. Ed Sullivan introduced
legislation last year that would have permanently extended the pilot program
but the bill failed to gain traction before legislators adjourned for the year.
Sullivan has accused state Democrats of using the lottery bill as a pawn in
their budget battle with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner (a fight that
forced the Illinois Lottery to temporarily issue IOU’s to winning
players last year).
The Chicago Tribune reported that the House
Finance Committee was supposed to take up the matter on Thursday but the
meeting was cancelled. Complicating matters, politicians won’t be back at their
desks until April, when the new legislative session officially commences,
meaning online lottery sales appear destined for a hiatus of undetermined
The Illinois Lottery said online sales have totalled around
$68m since the 2012 launch, 24% of which is funnelled to state education and
construction projects. How much fiscal support these beneficiaries will lose
depends on how long it takes the squabbling pols to stop looking this online
gift horse in the mouth.
Online lottery sales have been a tough sell in most US
states. Two years after Illinois popped the nation’s online cherry,
the Minnesota Lottery became the first to offer online scratch
tickets. The resulting furor over the online scratchers’ similarity to slot
machines ultimately led to the online site being scrapped
entirely last September.
Currently, only Michigan and Georgia’s state
lotteries offer some form of online instant win games. The Michigan Lottery
says its online offer has performed above expectations since its November 2014
debut, and the Lottery went as far as to book commercial time in four local TV
markets during this year’s Super Bowl to promote its online operations.