CHICAGO — At 7:03 a.m. Sunday — just three minutes after Illinois officially became the first state to sell lottery tickets online — the first ticket was purchased.
Hours later, more than 1,600 people had bought tickets, with sales topping $9,000. Lottery officials said they expected the fast pace of sales to continue through to Tuesday evening's Mega Millions drawing, where the jackpot is an estimated $356 million.
Illinois Lottery officials, who have touted online sales as a way to keep up with the times and also help a financially struggling state, said moving games of chance online just made sense.
"There are lots of people who buy most of their products over the Internet," Illinois Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones said Sunday.
Online sales were given federal approval in December when the U.S. Department of Justice reversed its decision on allowing Internet gambling. Other states are considering similar programs and are closely watching to see if Illinois succeeds.
Lotto and Mega Millions tickets were made available Sunday. More games, including Powerball, may be added in the future. Any addition would require legislative approval.
The move has received some scrutiny as critics worry that online sales will enable underage gambling and fuel gambling addictions.
Jones said that several measures have been put into place to monitor age. Users must register, provide a Social Security number and address and check a box verifying they are at least 18 years of age. Also, anyone who wins more than $600 has to file a claim form.
"We will investigate each one of these clients," Jones said.
Jones dismissed the concern that online sales will worsen addictions.
"They're conflating forms of gambling. Lotteries are a very, very different form of gambling because of their nature," he said. "You risk a small amount of money against very long odds. We don't offer the kind of action that's usually associated with addictive behavior."Comment on this story
Jones said his biggest worry was ensuring that the technology works.
Lottery officials have projected that online sales for Mega Millions will bring in between $78 million and $118 million in new sales. Projections for Lotto weren't available.
The Illinois Lottery was founded in 1974. Lottery officials say it's contributed more than $17 billion to the state funds, including for schools and capital projects.