N.H. Lottery ditches new online game

Last modified: 8/18/2010 12:00:00 AM
The New Hampshire Lottery Commission has scrapped a recently proposed online game that would have let gamblers 'play' their lottery tickets on their home computers.

Lottery officials said they decided to cancel the interactive game, called PlayNowNH, in order to focus on improving other pieces of the commission's work, such as beefing up promotional efforts and reassessing scratch ticket offerings.

'In light of our other challenges at this time, it is clear that the resources needed to introduce and sustain a product like PlayNowNH would be a poor return on investment,' said Charles McIntyre, executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission.

As proposed, PlayNowNH would have offered four different games - a baseball-themed game, slots, bingo and poker. Players would be limited to $100 per ticket and would receive an access code that would allow them to play the ticket on their own computers - for instance, by simulating pulling a lever on a slot machine. Maximum winnings ranged from $5,000 to $30,000, depending on the game.

But the winnings on each ticket would be determined at the time the player bought the ticket - so playing the game online would have no effect on the game's outcome. Ticket buyers could have checked at lottery outlets to see if their tickets were winters.

Lottery officials compared PlayNowNH to other lottery offerings, such as Powerball, in which players can check their winnings online.

'It was essentially the same thing,' said Debra Douglas chairwoman of the Lottery Commission. 'We were just trying to put a little twist on it to make it more entertaining.'

But PlayNowNH had a rocky history, even before yesterday's announcement. State lottery officials planned to roll out the game in early July, until lawmakers raised concerns about the online aspects of the game and the fact that they had not been briefed on its particulars.

And lottery officials estimated the new game would be a relatively modest moneymaker for the state - bringing in about $300,000 a year, out of annual revenue of about $67 million. Lawmakers last month had ordered the commission to delay rolling out PlayNowNH until September, after a formal proposal had been put forward. Yesterday's announcement abandons that plan.

'I think they have to learn to use everything that's available to them to enhance their sales, but this game wasn't going to produce any money, and they've got to pay attention to their real business, which is scratch ticket games,' said Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat.

The news comes as lawmakers and lottery officials debate how to draw more money out of New Hampshire's lottery games. The lottery commission's profits go to the state's education fund, but that haul has been declining for several years. The amount diverted toward education costs last year was the lowest in six years.

Lottery officials are also concerned that New Hampshire is losing gamblers to neighboring states. Douglas said a new 10 percent tax on gambling winnings, approved by the Legislature last year, has hastened the shift of some players away from New Hampshire's lottery.

D'Allesandro said he's heard from retailers along the Massachusetts border that sales of Powerball and other games have slackened since New Hampshire's gambling tax took effect.

'The Legislature created a tremendous hurdle to overcome' on lottery sales, D'Allesandro said. 'That 10 percent tax puts them in a negative position against every other lottery in the country.'

Kevin Flynn, a spokesman for the Lottery Commission, said he didn't have a figure for how much developing PlayNowNH had cost the state.

'There were resources and development, but all of it was covered by a contract with a vendor, so it's not like the state incurred an exorbitant amount of money to develop a game and now we don't know if it's going to even go on,' Flynn said.

Gov. John Lynch said in July that he supported the new game as an effort to modernize the state's lottery offerings. Yesterday, Colin Manning, a spokesman for Lynch, said, 'The lottery has to exercise its best judgment in order to meet revenue targets established in the budget, and that's why they made the decision they did.'

Lottery officials said they plan to release new ideas soon about improving the commission's offerings and bureaucracy.

'The Legislature depends on our revenue for a big chunk of the educational funding,' Douglas said, 'so to run his business just like any governmental agency to no regards to what our bottom line is, is a mistake.'

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