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Players snapping up Mass. Lottery's new $30 tickets

Apr 29, 2014, 9:06 am

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Massachusetts Lottery

The Massachusetts State Lottery, following the lead of a handful of other states, has rolled out new scratch tickets at a significantly higher price — $30 a pop — saying there is a market for more costly games with the chance of bigger winnings.

Since the new game was launched last Tuesday, bettors have snapped up more than $8 million in tickets, hoping to win one of the four $15 million instant jackpots or at least take home one of the 36 $1 million prizes. Dina William, who, along with her husband owns a 7-Eleven in Gloucester, said the convenience store sold a book of 50 tickets last week in less than 24 hours.

"The prizes are very, very interesting for customers," said William, adding that the new scratch tickets are also selling briskly at her other Gloucester business, Good Harbor Liquors. The game also has smaller payouts starting at $30.

The chance of winning a prize is about 1 in 3, higher than any previous lottery game in the state. But with 25.2 million tickets printed, the chances of winning one of the four top prizes is 1 in 6.3 million.

The higher-stakes game, however, is raising concerns among those who treat gambling compulsions. They say that scratch tickets are among the leading causes of compulsive gambling.

"The number one way people gamble who call our help line is scratch tickets," said Marlene Warner, executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling. "This feeds into their need for more excitement, for more of a chance for that big win they are searching for. And some of these folks will have the funds and some will not."

The decision to create the new game was made after market research suggested the demand was there, lottery executive director Beth Bresnahan said. The state's $20 scratch tickets — previously the highest priced — have proved very popular, she said. Those tickets accounted for 22 percent of total instant game sales in fiscal 2013, according to the lottery.

Other states have had success with $30 tickets, Bresnahan said, including Connecticut, which introduced the nation's first $30 scratch ticket in 2002. Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have all released $30 scratch tickets in recent months. Texas has the nation's highest-priced scratch ticket at $50.

"The marketplace was asking for and ready for a new introduction, one with bigger prizes and bigger payouts," Bresnahan said. "Higher-price-point tickets generate more money."

Scratch tickets, first introduced in the state in 1974, are at the heart of the state lottery, consistently generating more than two-thirds of the system's annual revenue. The lottery's profits — $956 million in fiscal 2013 — are distributed as local aid to the state's cities and towns.

The state has steadily added higher-priced games over the years, introducing the $5 scratch ticket in 1992, the $10 in 1999, and the $20 ticket, with a top prize of $10 million, in 2007. Even though the lottery generated a record $3.3 billion in sales last year, officials decided to introduce the $30 game — with bigger jackpots — as a way to keep players interested.

The lottery says that a small proportion of players have problems with gambling addiction, but it works with the Council on Compulsive Gambling to help people find and access appropriate services.

Other critics say that lotteries depend heavily on lower-income players to buy tickets, making it a regressive way to raise revenues. Adding higher-price tickets will only put a further squeeze on the budgets of these households.

"There are strong arguments that we wouldn't want to encourage people to spend more on gambling, " said Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a think tank in Boston.

It is too early to know whether the pricey new game will be a success for the lottery, but Bresnahan said that many retailers are requesting tickets and the general buzz indicates significant interest among players.

That makes it likely that the lottery will introduce additional $30 games each April, she said.

Some regular scratch ticket players, however, do not see the appeal of such an expensive game. Patricia Graham, 66, of North Reading, buys two $5 scratch tickets every week, but said even the possibility of a huge payout does not compensate for the long odds.

"There's no way I'd ever buy one," she said.

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