Buying Lottery Tickets Just Keeps Getting Easier

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It’s not like buying lottery tickets is particularly difficult. But because states continually want to increase revenues via rising lottery sales, they’re constantly looking for “innovations” that make lottery tickets easier to buy and available at every turn—like at the gas pump, the ATM, or just the computer screen.

Last week, Missouri announced that in an effort to boost lottery revenues, it will start selling tickets electronically at gas station pumps and ATMs this fall. Anyone pumping gas or doing business at an ATM equipped with ticket-selling capabilities will be prompted with the option to tack a lottery ticket purchase onto the transaction.

One might assume that such actions are being taken because lottery ticket sales have been lackluster and it’s therefore necessary to reinvigorate the market. In fact, the lottery has been booming, with record sales in Missouri and much of the country for that matter.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that lottery ticket sales were over $1.097 billion last year, which is almost double the total from a decade ago. The state expects $1.15 billion in lottery ticket sales for the budget year ending June 30. For the year to follow, Missouri is banking on lottery tickets hitting new all-time highs for sales, with an anticipated $298.5 million heading back to the state, which “has grown more reliant on the Missouri Lottery to fund public education,” according to the paper.

(MORE: Play the Lottery? You Bet)

Missouri’s test program, which will be introduced this fall at 15 gas stations and 100 ATMs in the state, follows in the footsteps of Minnesota, which began allowing customers to purchase lottery tickets with debit cards at ATMs and gas pumps last autumn. “People are always in a hurry nowadays,” Minnesota Lottery executive director Ed Van Petten said to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune at the time. “The thought is it takes 10 to 15 seconds to go through the process, and I think people would say, ‘Why not. I’ll give it a shot.'”

When Minnesota rolled out its new lottery ticket purchase options, it too could already boast of record-high sales. The new sales channels are part of the endless campaign for ever-higher lottery revenues. In Minnesota at least, a $1 fee is assessed for each ticket purchase at an ATM or gas station, and customers are required to purchase at least three Powerball tickets or five Mega Millions tickets. CNN reported that lottery sales at gas pumps have been brisk, according to Van Patten, and that there was a weekly limit of $50 in lottery tickets at pumps and ATMs.

Linq3, the Manhattan-based company that’s behind the technology allowing lottery sales at ATMs and gas pumps, plays up the idea that these new sales options attract a very important consumer group: people who don’t usually play the lottery. “You’re getting a new demographic,” Linq3 CEO Daniel Cage told Crain’s. Consumers who don’t have the time or inclination to pop into convenience stores for lottery tickets now have the option of a quick, human-free lottery purchase transaction. The concept is supposed to appeal especially to younger consumers, who are particularly comfortable with digital transactions, and who tend to use debit cards for everything and may not carry around cash at all.

(MORE: Q&A with ‘The Lottery Wars’ Author Matthew Sweeney)

Other states are removing the inconvenience factor, as well as human beings, from the lottery ticket purchase equation in other ways. In early 2012, Illinois became the first state to sell lottery tickets online, and as USA Today noted at the time, “it won’t be the last.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Ohio just took action that could ban online lottery ticket sales—mainly out of concern online sales would hurt stores, not gamblers—but that Georgia introduced online sales last fall, and e-sales will probably be a reality in Michigan in 2014. “A consumer can now buy almost anything they want online,” a Michigan Lottery spokesperson said. “The lottery should really be no different. If we want to remain competitive in today’s economy and today’s market, this is something we need to do.”

In California, consumers have a particularly interesting option for no-effort lottery ticket purchasing. As many news outlets have noted, a company called LottoGopher charges $12 per month or $99 per year—in addition to the price of playing lottery games—and a messenger will go to a store and purchase tickets for you.