The Massachusetts State Lottery currently offers more than 100 types of scratch cards.Those instant games brought in close to $4 millionin revenue for the state in 2022, down 3% from the previous year.
And this year, the lottery introduced a $50 scratch ticket to compete with online sports betting, promising players better odds and bigger prizes. The ticket’s debut led to record sales.
But Les Bernal, the director of advocacy nonprofit Stop Predatory Gambling, told Greater Boston that the state shouldn't be in the business of gambling.
“Citizens weren't demanding the opportunity to buy $50 scratch-off tickets in low-income communities,” Bernal said.
A 2014 Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts report found that 1.7% of Bay State citizens are problem gamblers. Of those, 77% are male, 24% are Black and 17% are unemployed.
Rachel Volberg, a research professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the principal investigator of the SEIGMA report, found that certain groups are particularly vulnerable to developing gambling problems. But she said the state can implement regulations to minimize and mitigate harm.
“We are in the midst of one of the most explosive expansions of legalized gambling that the United States has seen in many, many years,” said Volberg. “So, you don't often hear about policymakers or anybody else really wanting to eliminate or reduce the number of gambling outlets.”
Bernal said Massachusetts citizens lose more than $5,000 of their personal wealth every minute to the state’s lottery and regional casinos.
"This is driven by the greed of big gambling operators and a lust for political power by a handful of public officials,” said Bernal. “This is a business that's based on conning people. It's a form of consumer financial fraud, just like price gouging and false advertising. And that's why this business is illegal unless you partner with the state.”
In the United States, gambling is regulated at the state level instead of being overseen by a federal agency. In Massachusetts, along with many other states, gambling has become normalized, which Bernal said is harmful.
“Gambling used to be illegal, on the fringe of society,” said Bernal. “Today, it’s a government program with the MGM logo branded on the green monster at Fenway Park. You have a Massachusetts Lottery that sells Frosty the Snowman scratch off tickets during the holiday season.”
Christian Teja, director of communications at the Mass Lottery, said in a statement that the lottery has operated in a transparent and responsible manner for more than 50 years.
“The Lottery currently partners with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Office of Problem Gambling Services to raise awareness of problem gambling, train Lottery staff, and promote treatment and resources for those in need of assistance,” Teja added.
But Bernal said Bay Staters are the real losers. “That's why they [government officials] spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying for you, the taxpayer. You're paying higher taxes for less services today because of government-sanctioned gambling,” said Bernal.