Everybody dreams of striking it rich, but what if you could win big over and over and over again?
7News discovered the owners of some businesses where Lottery tickets are sold, are doing just that.
Millions of people scratch the lottery itch, hoping it’s their lucky day. But for some business owners, it’s been their lucky day for years.
“Statistically, it doesn’t make sense,” said Greg Sullivan, research director for the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank. “It waves a bright red flag.”
7News analyzed data provided by the Lottery, which detailed the most frequent winners of taxable prizes, those worth $600 or more, since 2012.
7News discovered the owners of five businesses where Lottery tickets are sold have claimed at least 150 prizes over that time period. One store owner cashed 341 winning tickets.
The five business owners claimed a combined jackpot of $1.5 million.
“When you see these very high numbers of winning tickets from Lottery operators, it raises suspicion,” said Sullivan, who investigated the Lottery during his time as the state’s inspector general.
On average, the five retailers got lucky every nine days. One claimed 15 winners, with $22,000, on the same day.
To claim a prize of $600 or more, the Lottery checks the person’s name to see if they have any debt, including unpaid taxes or child support. Winnings can be withheld to pay of those debts.
Simply cashing a winner for someone else is fine, but it is against the rules to cash tickets to help the real winner avoid paying money that they owe.
“That is exactly what the Lottery should not be allowing to happen,” Sullivan said. “You’re facilitating somebody evading paying what they owe to the rest of us.”
7News tried to track down all five retailers. Three admitted that they were cashing tickets for other people. But two wouldn’t say who they were cashing tickets for, or why. The third said that he only claims prizes for people he knows well, as a favor, and he takes a small cut of the winnings himself.
“What you’ve uncovered here is, to me, a very strong case for reforms to be instituted,” Sullivan said.
When 7News asked Michael Sweeney, the executive director of the Massachusetts State Lottery, whether he thought there was something wrong with a store owner cashing tickets for other people and keeping some of the prize for himself, he replied, “I do.”
Sweeney said that the Lottery does keep a list of everybody who frequently cashes in tickets. It sends those names to other agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office and the IRS, once a month.
“What we usually suspect is that there’s some other type of activity going on that is not 100 percent legitimate,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said that what 7News uncovered is for sure a concern.
“The fact that a retail agent would appear on that list, I certainly think is warranting a deeper drill-down by the Lottery,” Sweeney said. “Any retail agent that’s on this high frequency casher list deserves an additional look, an additional conversation directly with the Lottery. And I want to assure you and your viewers, the general public, that that absolutely will occur.”
Some critics, including Sullivan, say retailers should be banned from buying tickets at their own stores. The Lottery strongly discourages such purchases. But a ban would be difficult to enforce, considering there are 7,500 Lottery retailers statewide.
Sweeney said that also puts the five retailers that 7News highlighted in perspective.
“This is less than one-tenth of one percent of what we’re talking about,” Sweeney said, referring to the total number of retailers in Massachusetts.
Sweeney also noted that the Lottery has recently increased the amount of money withheld from prizes for debts like unpaid child support. Data from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue shows the total withheld from prizes for unpaid child support in 2015 and 2016, more than $2.7 million, was 60 percent higher than the combined total in 2013 and 2014.
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