Are Mobile Phone Apps To Play State Lotteries Actually Legal?

Image courtesy of Ross Catrow

If you can make everything in your life from food delivery to rides to dates happen by tapping on your smartphone, why can’t you play legal state lotteries on your phone? There are mobile apps on the market that claim to be 100% compliant with state lottery laws, offering the equivalent of sending a friend down to the gas station to pick up a Powerball ticket for you. Are they really cool with the authorities?

We started thinking about this after learning about a new lottery app, AutoLotto. The iOS app lets you buy lottery tickets online, including the multi-state Powerball game, as long as you and your phone are physically in New Hampshire. The app grew out of an existing program for checking lottery numbers (there are a lot of those) and currently operates in New Hampshire.

The company has a physical presence in the state where they sign and keep original tickets, which are insured in case something happens to their office. Lottery tickets are a bearer instrument, so the winnings go to whoever has the ticket in their hand and brings it to the local lottery agency.

“We’re not here to ‘disrupt’ the industry,” AutoLotto co-founder Tony DiMatteo told TechCrunch. “We seek formal acknowledgement that we are not in conflict with existing laws before we operate. We provide a service that helps state lottos and retailers, and people who enjoy playing.”

Is buying lottery tickets online legal? That question hasn’t been definitively answered: at best, we know that it’s not explicitly illegal in New Hampshire and New York. The question would have to be answered separately for every state that operates a lottery if a company wanted to sell tickets there.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the state Racing and Wagering Committee, said last year that the state legislature planned to investigate the idea of lottery apps, but nothing has come of it yet. We checked in with both the Lottery Commission and Assemblyman Pretlow’s office, and neither got back to us before publication. We’ll update this post if they do.

The regulations differ by state: a company called Jackpocket has been selling tickets in New York since 2013, and it definitely helps that New York allows people to pay for lottery tickets using credit cards (though they accept debit cards and bitcoin, too.) Instead of becoming a lottery ticket seller itself, Jackpocket purchases them from a nearby store that is a licensed lottery retailer, splitting the retailer’s commission with the store.

Legally, the company insists, it’s like asking your friend to run to the store and pick up a ticket for you and snap a picture of it with their phone. In both cases, your biggest concern is who has physical custody of the ticket. Prizes up to $599 in New York can be claimed at the store, and the app simply pays those into your account.

Larger prizes have to be claimed at a lottery center, and the company promises to get the physical ticket to you “in a secure fashion” so you can do that.

AutoLotto launches its mobile Powerball app [TechCrunch]

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