Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Virginia Lottery Debuts App-Based Gaming, Studies Future Role in Gambling

The Virginia Lottery made a tentative step into online lottery gaming with the launch of games that can be played in their app--but only if customers visit lottery retailers.

The lottery is also studying how it could get involved in any future casino gambling and sports betting in Virginia alongside a separate study commissioned by lawmakers.

The changes come as the lottery continued to post strong growth, with sales rising 8.6 percent and profits up 6 percent this year compared to the same period in the last fiscal year.

The lottery’s new MobilePlay, which formally launches on May 6, uses Bluetooth to connect customers to retailers, in what the lottery says is a novel deployment of the technology. It skirts a 2006 state law that bans online lottery sales--a market that Lottery executive director Kevin Hall is hungry to tap into.

“This is a tentative step into that space to make the product hopefully more relevant for especially younger consumers,” Hall said at a Lottery board meeting on Wednesday.

The lottery is also studying how it might be involved in regulating sports betting, casinos, and online gaming in Virginia using the precedents set by other states, according to Hall. That’s alongside a separate study from the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC), the legislature’s independent research wing, that lawmakers ordered this year. Hall said the lottery’s “deep dive” will be timed to coincide with the November release of the JLARC report.

“We’ll spend this in-between time getting ourselves in a stronger posture, to be able to move effectively, and in a timely way once the JLARC study is done,” Hall said. “Because right after that, the 2020 legislature convenes, and we need to be agile enough to be responsive to whatever they chose to do.”

Virginia has been slow to embrace gambling and even the lottery itself, which didn’t begin until 1987. Many conservative lawmakers remain skeptical of the push by casinos and other groups to expand gambling here.

A 2016 report by the Urban Institute think tank found that casino tax revenues tend to level off in states after an initial burst of activity, with total tax revenues across the country declining by 1.5 percent from 2008 to 2015.

“It’s highly unlikely that online gaming will solve the states’ fiscal challenges,” said Lucy Dadayan, the author of the report and a senior research associate at the institute.


Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
Related Stories