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Online lottery comes to Illinois

March 23, 2012: 4:07 PM ET

Illinois lotteryIllinois is giving new meaning to letting computers pick your lottery numbers.

Starting Sunday, Illinois residents will be allowed to buy Mega Millions and Lotto tickets online as part of a three- to four-year pilot program approved by the state legislature. The Prairie State will become the first to allow online lottery sales.

Buying lotto tickets online was thought to run afoul of the 1961 Wire Act, which prohibited gambling over wires. But the U.S. Justice Department in December gave its blessing to Web-based lottery sales, after Illinois and New York challenged the ban.

States have been betting on gambling -- both lottery and traditional gaming -- to bring in more revenues during the Great Recession. It's likely that more states will follow Illinois' example in allowing online lottery tickets.

The state expects to sell hundreds of thousands more tickets for games with prizes exceeding $100 million, said Michael Jones, the lottery's superintendent.  Cash-strapped Illinois could pocket up to $59 million in new revenue through online sales.

"It makes the lottery more accessible," Jones said, noting research shows more young adults, women and affluent residents will play for big prizes if offered the online option.

In Illinois, players will have to register and enter their credit card number, Social Security number, date of birth, name and address. Only those age 18 and over can participate. Not only do you have to be an Illinois resident, but you must play within the state's borders.

Illinois is hoping to add Powerball to its Web-based menu, but that would require legislative approval first. The state also offers many other lottery games, including top-selling scratch games, Pick 3 and Pick 4, as well as Little Lotto. Those will continue to be sold only at retailers.

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About This Author
Tami Luhby
Tami Luhby
Senior writer, CNNMoney

Tami Luhby is a senior writer at CNNMoney and covers income inequality, state fiscal problems, unemployment, housing policy and other economic issues. Luhby previously covered personal finance for Newsday and banking for Crain's New York Business.

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