Lottery sales at gas pumps a bad idea
By Beth Kassab
December 2, 2015
Coming soon to a gas pump near you: your choice of leaded or unleaded, a car wash and 10 Quick Pick Florida Lottery tickets.
If a group of lawmakers have their way, lottery tickets could be sold with the swipe of a credit card at gas pumps or other vending machines.
Even bank ATMs have been discussed as potential lottery vending machines.
Imagine the convenience: Withdrawal $50 fast cash and you can blow it immediately on the Lotto.
No wonder the Legislature has resisted mandating a full-fledged financial literacy class in high school.
They’re trying to sell more lottery tickets.
And make no mistake, this is all about sales.
People aren’t buying tickets for the number-picking games like they used to.
Those sales have stagnated.
So the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability made some recommendations.
One is to offer lottery tickets at gas pumps.
The report noted that “offering this option at ATMs may help expand the retailer network to non-traditional locations.”
I’d like to say that’s truly a Florid-duh moment, but other states have already tried this.
Minnesota stopped offering lottery tickets at gas pumps and ATMs earlier this year because that state’s Legislature decided the terminals overstepped Minnesota’s gaming rules.
Florida is pressing on anyway.
Bills to add lottery tickets to gas pumps and other vending machines that accept credit and debit cards are moving forward in the House and the Senate.
Mixing gambling with charge cards is like mixing Miley Cyrus with Yo Gabba Gabba on your kids’ playlist.
Wagering a few bucks — plus 25 percent interest to MasterCard or Visa — on Florida Mega Millions makes those 1 in 258,890,850 odds seem even worse.
Not to mention that people who regularly play the lottery are often those who can least afford it.
Sen. Garrett Richter, a Republican from Naples, is one of the sponsors of the credit card lotto bill.
He says it’s all about convenience and brushed aside concerns that poor people would be disproportionately affected.
“They have an automobile or they wouldn’t be at a gas pump,” he said. “They have the ability to pay with a credit card so they’re creditworthy.”
Except that a car is almost as essential as shelter in a state with such a pathetic public transportation system.
And credit card companies aren’t very discriminatory — they simply charge higher interest rates to customers with lower credit scores.
Rep. Holly Raschein, a Republican from Key Largo, is the sponsor in the House.
She said the current restriction on credit card sales of lottery tickets, which requires that the customer purchase at least $20 worth of milk, bread, gas or other goods in order to use a credit card for lottery tickets, would remain in place.
“This is not meant to prey on those who have credit issues or gaming issues,” she said.
Other states go much further in restricting credit card sales.
Missouri and North Carolina allow lottery sales at gas pumps, but only with debit cards, not credit cards.
Missouri puts a $100 per week limit on cardholders.
California limits players to $20 per transaction and $50 per week.
Both Raschein and Richter said they were open to adding restrictions as the bill moves forward.
Both also said they oppose allowing scratch-off tickets to be sold at gas pumps.
While the traditional number drawing games have stagnated, scratch-off sales have soared.
Last year the lottery launched 41 new scratch-off games and sales jumped by $388 million, or nearly 13 percent from a year earlier, according to a lottery report.
And that brings us back to the reason for the lottery in the first place.
It was a sold as a way to bolster the state’s education budget.
This year, though, state budget projections say there will be a nearly $1 billion surplus.
If lawmakers want to boost the amount of money they spend on schools, they could do that without asking Floridians to gamble on their credit cards.
To read the column on the Orlando Sentinel’s website, click here