Florida does not sell lottery tickets over the internet — and if a bill passed Wednesday by the House Gaming Control Subcommittee becomes law, it never will.
While New Hampshire has sued the Department of Justice in a bid to protect the revenues it derives from its online lottery operations, State Rep. Will Robinson (R-Bradenton) wants to the option taken off the table entirely.
The main aim of Robinson’s bill — which was advanced by the committee in a 10-1 vote — is to shut out third-party websites that claim affiliation with the state lottery but actually just buy tickets and mark up prices.
The bill would ban the use of personal electronic devices for the sale and purchase of tickets, ensuring that every ticket sale involves a transaction between a store and an in-person buyer.
“These fraudulent websites are, in my view, illegally advertising when they are not related to the lottery system at all,” he told Florida Politics earlier this week. “The lottery is significantly regulated and that’s for a purpose … The state of Florida wants to make sure the right thing is being sold.”
Robinson also wants to include prominent warnings about the dangers of gambling on lottery products and marketing materials. If enacted, from January 1, 2020, every advertisement or promotion of lottery games will be required to include the following statement in upper case:
WARNING: PLAYING A LOTTERY GAME CONSTITUTES GAMBLING AND MAY LEAD TO ADDICTION AND/OR COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOR. THE CHANCES OF WINNING A BIG PRIZE ARE VERY LOW.”
According to Florida Politics, Robinson was inspired to introduce his bill after learning of a recent case where a woman from Panama showed up to claim a $30 million prize from a Florida store she had never visited. She had bought her ticket at a premium from Israel-based website TheLotter.com.
TheLotter allows players from anywhere in the world to choose their numbers online, and then sends out local agents to buy tickets on their behalf.
The Florida Lottery launched an investigation but ultimately concluded that no laws had been broken and paid the jackpot. But it terminated its contract with the Florida store after determining its management knew it was selling tickets to the third-party business.
In 2011, the DOJ opined that the federal Wire Act did not prohibit the sale of lottery tickets on the internet. Its opinion had been sought by the AGs of New York and Illinois, as those states were considering expanding their lottery operations online.
The opinion paved the way for around a dozen states to launch online lotteries in one form or another, and many more are currently mulling the idea. But the DOJ’s reversal of the opinion in January jeopardizes those operations — as well as the online casino and poker operations of New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware and Pennsylvania.