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Starting Sunday, you can buy your Illinois lottery tickets online

A customer passes by an Illinois Lottery advertisement on a vending machine while leaving Danny's Foods, 1965 Vermont Street, in Blue Island after purchasing groceries and lottery tickets Saturday, January 21, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

SPRINGFIELD – Beginning this weekend, Illinois will be the first state to offer lottery tickets for sale online, opening the door for an up-to $118 million windfall for the state.

The pilot program that will launch around 7 a.m. Sunday will mean that bettors who play Lotto or Mega Millions can do so from the comfort of their living rooms or through their cellphones rather than standing in lines at convenience stores or gas stations.

“Everybody’s looking at us. This is technologically groundbreaking, public policy groundbreaking, and will help make the lottery hopefully become a vibrant thing in the lives of Illinoisans again,” state Lottery Supt. Michael Jones told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Mega Millions game had an estimated jackpot of $356 million.

“We’ll begin this test with one of the largest prizes in the history of lotteries: $356 million,” Jones said. The drawing is Tuesday.

State lawmakers authorized the pilot program, which will last between three to four years, to help pay for Illinois’ $31 billion capital construction program that passed in 2009. It’s expected to generate as much as $118 million annually to be applied toward roadwork, school construction and other state building projects.

The online lottery experiment was delayed from the beginning when the Justice Department blocked Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration from proceeding. In December, the feds allowed the program to move forward.

So far, Lotto and Mega Millions are the only two games being offered via the Internet, though legislation is pending in the Senate that would expand that menu to include Powerball, the high-stakes, long-odds, multi-state game known for nine-digit payouts.

Anti-gambling activists worry that the state’s entry into online lottery sales will result in more gambling addiction problems.

“The problem with the Internet is it’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from your home, from your cellphone, from your office,” said Anita Bedell, executive director of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems. “Anybody could get on and get this.”

To wager, players have to live in Illinois, be at least 18 and have a credit card to pay for purchases. Tickets for Lotto and Mega Millions can be bought at www.illinoislottery.com.