Online Georgia Lottery sales start Sunday

Georgia Lottery players can go online to buy tickets starting Sunday.

The move is expected to increase the state lottery’s revenue by millions of dollars a year — thus helping the state’s lottery-funded HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs — and it positions Georgia among the first states nationwide to expand lottery sales to the Internet.

Powerball, Mega Millions and Fantasy 5 will be the first games online, a lottery spokeswoman said Wednesday. Others may follow. The expansion coincides with the launch of the lottery’s new debit card, which will be used for online and, eventually, retail transactions.

Branded as the “iHOPE” card, it will allow players to preload funds, buy tickets and have their winnings automatically downloaded into the card’s account.

Online lottery sales became possible last year, after the U.S. Justice Department reversed itself and said the national Wire Act of 1961 applies only to sports betting. The act otherwise prohibits placing bets over telecommunication systems across state or national boundaries.

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In Georgia, lottery board members approved online sales in July, saying they felt comfortable with technological controls they can place on players.

Those controls include mandatory registration, banking requirements that will match an applicant’s name, address and Social Security number, and limits on how much account activity or playing time is allowed. IP addresses will be monitored to assure players buy the tickets only in Georgia. No out-of-state sales are allowed. Players must be at least 18 years old.

Gov. Nathan Deal, whose opposition has so far doomed a bigger expansion of gambling in Georgia, has said he is fine with online lottery ticket sales as a way to reach new, more tech-savvy players.

The Georgia Lottery — with $3.8 billion in sales last year — pumps more than $900 million into the state’s HOPE college scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs each year. While it is one of the most successful lotteries in the nation, it cannot keep up with rising enrollment and tuition costs, and scholarships have been cut.

The addition of online sales is expected to boost revenue by about 2 percent of annual existing sales of those games.

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