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MA Lottery Bets on New Ticket

The Massachusetts State Lottery unveils its new instant scratch ticket today. For $20-dollars you can get the "Billion-Dollar Blockbuster," a chance to win a range of prizes, including a pay-out of one million a year, for life.

The new ticket comes as the Lottery's income is slackening, and amid worries that casino gambling in Massachusetts would further undermine the state's lottery revenues. Here's WBUR's Fred Thys with more on the story.

TEXT OF STORY:

FRED THYS THYS: Mary Bourdeau's parents own the D & D Deli in Cambridgeport. She says some of her customers spend a lot of money on scratch tickets.

MARY BOURDEAU: People come buy $100 worth of scratch tickets. We have people who sit here for an hour, two hours scratching tickets.

THYS: But Bourdeau predicts that many of her customers are going to find twenty dollars a lot to pay for one scratch ticket.

BOURDEAU: And they probably want to wait a while to see how it pans out. It seems like a pretty expensive scratch ticket to me, so I think people are going to be a little leery about it.

THYS: But the Massachusetts Lottery says it's what players want. Dan Rosenthal is the communications director.

DAN ROSENTHAL: The Billion-Dollar Blockbuster comes after a great deal of research and discussion on our part with our players. Our players, our customers, wanted a ticket at this price point that would generate a lot of excitement and would generate large prizes, and it's something that a lot of thought and development and consideration, that we decided to put out on the market. We're actually a little bit late in the New England market with a ticket at this price point, because all of the other New England states already have $20 tickets.

THYS: The Massachusetts Lottery needs the revenue. Its income has leveled off in recent years, to the point where State Treasurer Tim Cahill, once an opponent of casinos, changed his mind and decided that they would be a good thing, because the state needs the money. He recently explained his new position to WBUR's Radio Boston.

TIM CAHILL: Our lottery is mature. We've been in business for 35 years. We're everywhere, and our revenues are slowing, if not declining, and I know what the need is for revenues, because I was a city councilor for 15 years before I became state treasurer. I can't provide the growing needs of cities and towns. They can't continue to raise property taxes, so I'm trying to be proactive and say economically, this is the way to do it.

THYS: A study conducted by the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth found that the lottery is the state's third source of revenue, right behind the sales tax, and that no other state depends more on lottery revenues than Massachusetts. All of that money goes to cities and towns . How much they get depends on whose figures you listen to. The Lottery says it distributed 897 million dollars to cities and towns this past year. Geoff Beckwith, of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, says cities and towns received 920 million dollars and are planning on 935 million this year.

GEOFF BECKWITH: That $15 million increase spread throughout the state really doesn't match the local aid need that cities and towns have.

THYS: Beckwith says the Lottery is what pays for police and fire protection, road maintenance and repair, recreation and libraries. With Lottery revenues reaching a plateau, Beckwith says cities and towns need a new source of revenue. Governor Deval Patrick has proposed that communities be allowed to charge a one-to-two per cent meals tax, which would bring in an extra 250 million dollars, but that proposal is stuck in the legislature for now, because Speaker Sal Di Masi says it's not a good idea.

And Casinos would likely hurt the Lottery's ability to help cities and towns, at least in the beginning. The UMass Dartmouth study found that once states adopt casino gambling, lottery revenues tend to level off. And a study commissioned by the Lottery predicts that casinos would actually cause Lottery revenues to decline for several months before recovering.

This program aired on September 25, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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