My brother-in-law bought me several California Lottery scratchers as a stocking stuffer this year. Two of them were $5 games based on poker. It says on the California Lottery website, “Like Poker? Then our $75,000 Poker Scratchers game is the one for you.” I love poker, so how could I resist?
I scratched eight spots to reveal poker hands I had to use to beat the dealer’s hand. Three of my hands won! I felt like it was my lucky day. I won more with my scratcher that day than I did playing real poker.
After scratching for five minutes and leaving plastic shavings everywhere, I can see why lottery players look forward to the day they will be able to log onto their state’s lottery site and let their computer do the scratching for them. Look for your favorite lottery games coming to a computer near you.
The Obama administration’s decision in December 2011 limiting the Wire Act to sports betting paved the way for the legalization of online lottery sales. Three months later on March 25, 2012, Illinois became the first jurisdiction to sell lottery tickets online. Currently, that is the only state that allows Internet lottery sales, but in the not-too-distant future, expect the lottery to be online in many more states.
People think the lottery is just picking numbers, but it is much more than that. Pretty soon every casino game you can imagine will be adapted and played with a lottery ticket. According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries website, U.S. lottery sales totaled $78 billion in 2012. The New York Lottery, North America’s largest and most profitable lottery, accounts for over $9 billion of that total. In comparison, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has projected online gambling in his state will generate over $1 billion in revenue by July 2014, and many industry analysts are calling that an overly optimistic number. Regardless what the final number is, it will pale in comparison to the revenue state lotteries generate.
Factor in the fact that lotteries often use funding education as a way to get passed in legislatures and then as a selling point (though as little as 11 cents of every dollar actually goes back to some states), lotteries hit the marketing jackpot. With record jackpots making the national news and multi-state drawing games like Powerball now played in 44 jurisdictions, online gambling will have a hard time competing.
While the gaming industry is spending millions lobbying for the legalization of online gaming, the lotteries are sitting back cheering them on. When all the hard work is done, they will take it over from there. Online poker is currently being used to pass all other forms of Internet gambling since it is easier to push online poker through legislatures because it is generally considered a game of skill. It would be difficult to pass online gambling if it was presented as games of pure chance.
All eyes will now turn to New York, Massachusetts and the big prize, California. The bills introduced in the California legislature specify online poker only at this time, but do not be fooled by the words poker only. It is just the beginning of what is coming. Poker will increase in popularity for the next 10 years when New York and California finally offer online gaming.
During this time, online poker will create the pathway for all other forms of online gaming. These states with the largest populations in the nation will become meccas for online poker, and in 10 years or so they will also be home to the biggest gaming companies in the world, the lotteries. Poker players can look back one day and say, “We started it all.”
I believe poker will all but vanish from the online gambling sites once it has served its purpose. One day you will have to search hard on any gambling website to find the poker tab and look even harder for a poker game.
The big winners in all this are the state lotteries if they are allowed to cross state lines and become legal in every home. The lottery will create slots and poker games and camouflage them to look like scratcher games much like the one I described at the beginning of this article.
The lottery industry is not as innocuous as it seems. It is about more than just picking some numbers; it is a whole new gambling platform. Do not be surprised if America’s game changes from poker to the lottery. Think about that the next time you buy a Powerball ticket with a 1-in-175,223,510 chance of winning the jackpot, roughly the same chance as getting hit by lightning – on your birthday.
Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter @thechipburnerRobert can be reached at [email protected].