By Matt Murphy and Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley came out against the use the credit cards for online gaming in Massachusetts Thursday, a critique into an area where her rival for the Corner Office, Treasurer Steven Grossman, believes states will battle for future gambling dollars.
"Opening the door to credit card gambling will certainly help the big banks, but not Massachusetts families nor local businesses," said Coakley, in a statement. "The convenience of gaming online combined with the use of credit cards to finance playing is a recipe for disaster. The potential to run up credit card debt gambling online will further weigh down many of those already struggling to keep their heads above water."
>>> For video of Coakley's comments on online gaming, go to: http://www.statehousenews.com/video/14-02-27coakley_gaming/ <<<
Coakley, the attorney general, has been the target of a series of critiques from Grossman's campaign on what he said was a "pattern" of inconsistent statements she made on criminal justice matters. Coakley, who has held a wide lead in public polls, said the statement was not aimed at Grossman.
The Online Products Task Force that Grossman convened to investigate a potential Lottery foray onto the Internet recommended the possibility of "requiring online players to purchase pre-paid gift cards from Lottery sales agents."
Lottery players are prohibited from using credit cards to purchase tickets at retail vendors. Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, of Leominster, has filed legislation (S 101) to allow online Lottery games and Grossman is listed as a cosponsor.
Critics of the move online, who include convenience storeowners who sell tickets, said the bill would legalize the use of credit cards.
Grossman's campaign deferred to the Treasury, which said Grossman has two conditions as he seeks to venture into online gaming.
"First, there would be no negative impact on the Lottery's 7,400 sales agents, who have been the backbone of its success for more than 40 years. Second, it would not lead to increased problem gambling," spokesman Jon Carlisle said in a statement. "That continues to be the Treasurer's unwavering position."
Three other Democrats are vying with Grossman and Coakley for their party's nomination for governor in 2014.
Asked on Thursday whether online gaming could be implemented in a way that protects against problem gambling, Coakley said, "In the short run, it's hard to imagine that because at least the way they are set up now you would require the use of a credit card for online gaming and so as a result of that I feel pretty strongly that it's not a good idea for consumers. It's not a good idea for Massachusetts."
Coakley said policymakers made "great efforts" when crafting the expanded gambling law licensing casinos and a slot parlor to mitigate the harm than can result to resident with compulsive gambling habits.
"Certainly, allowing online gambling with the use of credit cards exacerbates that risk. We believe it will put consumers in the position of getting into debt," she told reporters at the State House where she came to testify on flood insurance.
Earlier this month at a budget hearing, Grossman asked the Legislature for the authority to begin testing online Lottery ticket sales, but pledged never to implement such a program unless he was confident that the livelihood of Lottery sales agents can be protected.
"We will not be the competition of the 7,400 agents," Grossman promised.
One possible way to protect retailers, he said, would be to sell gift cards in stores that can be redeemed online for Lottery purchases, with the same percentage of sales and prizes going back to the stores. He said he would be interested in limiting purchases through this strategy to protect against gambling addiction.
Coakley last week expressed concerns to the Gaming Commission about the debt collection practices of Connecticut casinos who sometimes place liens on the homes of gamblers who owe money. She said the issue of online gaming with credit cards has come up on the campaign trail.
She said her campaign did not issue her statement on Thursday in an attempt to draw a contrast between herself and Grossman, but rather to respond to a concern she is hearing from residents.