Drop in Mass. lottery sales prompts concern

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BOSTON (AP) – The highly successful Massachusetts State Lottery experienced a $56 million decline in revenues during the first five months of the fiscal year, sparking concern among municipal officials who rely on the money to fund basic functions such as police and fire forces.

“The Massachusetts Lottery has historically been one of the top-selling lotteries in the nation,” Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who oversees the Lottery, said in a statement on Friday. “Over the past four years, we have implemented innovative initiatives that have returned more than $3.7 billion to municipalities, and generated over $13 billion in revenue.”

Sales through November were down for all lottery games except Keno, which was up 3.5 percent from the same time last year. The steepest decline was in MegaMillions sales, which were off nearly 48 percent.

Sales of instant scratch tickets, the lottery’s biggest seller, were down 3.6 percent, or about $46 million. The Numbers Game was down 1.2 percent and Mass Cash was down 6.3 percent.

Sales slipped to $1.801 billion from $1.872 billion through the first five months of the fiscal year, a 3.8 percent decline, compared with the year-ago period.

A week after the November figures were released, Cahill changed leadership at the lottery. “The lottery right now is extraordinarily important to cities and towns,” Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, told The Boston Globe. “We’re hoping that the lottery sales rebound. It’s something we’re watching very closely.”

Many communities are already counting on this year’s lottery aid, but Beckwith said the towns shouldn’t assume the lottery will continue to grow indefinitely.

“The Lottery is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, in North America,” Beckwith said. “I don’t think we can continue to count on it ranking number one and always hitting its growth target.

“This is one of the reasons we’re advocating for diversified local aid, for example, a local options meals tax and revenue sharing,” he said.

Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, called declining lottery sales “a serious short- and long-term problem facing the state and cities and towns.”

Massachusetts trailed only New York in total lottery sales in each of the past three years and was fifth in per capita sales in the last fiscal year, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

The decline in lottery revenues comes at a time when Gov. Deval Patrick is trying to close an estimated $1 billion deficit in the next fiscal year’s budget.

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