ALBANY -- The New York Division of the Lottery is free to begin offering adults the chance to play lottery games online, but it is looking for guidance from state government on when to pull the trigger.
After two years of seeking clarification from the U.S. Department of Justice, the division received word three weeks ago that there is no federal prohibition to stop states from using the Internet to offer lottery games.
"We were looking forward to a ruling like this," Lottery Director Gordon Medenica said in an interview. He said he is unsure how the division will capitalize on the opportunity because Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration is evaluating possibilities.
"We are examining our options and having good discussions with the second floor [the governor's office] on what our strategy will be going forward," Medenica said.
Medenica said the Justice Department made it clear in a Dec. 23 letter to Lottery General Counsel William J. Murray that New York can allow lottery games to be played online but not casino games, such as poker. He said it is unclear whether instant games or keno will be offered.
He said the big jackpot games could be sold over the Web, however, and more offerings are planned, such as Sweet Million and Powerball. The state has had an online subscription service for other jackpot games, Lotto and Mega Millions, for several years.
Medenica said New York has been making preparations for the technical framework needed to offer online playing and has developed a program with its vendor, GTech, for the eventuality of online lottery playing.
He said Lottery would roll out online gaming in a way that would not hurt business of existing lottery agents, the hundreds of convenience stores and other retail outlets as well as the nine racinos.
State law specifically authorizes video lottery terminals, similar to slot machines, only at racetracks.
Any added revenue from Internet playing would likely be modest and new gaming could take years to hit it big.
"The goal is to augment, not cannibalize, existing merchants," Medenica said. "We're ready technologically. Now we need to get into a comfort level in terms of what we want to do as a state."
Legislation or amended state laws would be needed to allow for Internet instant games and make it clear that games like the Quick Draw keno game can be played on a computer, Murray, the Lottery attorney, told the Public Gaming Research Institute recently. "Like all other states, the New York Legislature is presently dealing with the fiscal crisis," he added.