Lottery winners not getting full prize value

Promised merchandise worth $548, but items worth far less than that

THE WINNERS OF two second-chance drawings offered by the Massachusetts Lottery are getting shortchanged, collecting merchandise worth far less than what they were promised.

Second-chance games do what the name implies, give losing instant ticket holders the opportunity to win in a second drawing that offers money prizes as well as “pick your prize” packages worth 35,000 points that can be exchanged in a virtual store for merchandise that is supposed to be worth $548.

But an analysis of the merchandise that can be purchased with 35,000 points suggests the real value, based on comparison shopping at online retail outlets, is about $260, less than half of what winners were promised.

A spokesman for the Lottery said the agency contracts with Georgia-based MDI Entertainment, a division of longtime Lottery vendor Scientific Games, to provide a prize package worth $548 and it is up to MDI to fulfill the claim.

Susan Cartwright, vice president for corporate communications at Scientific Games, says in a statement that the prize value doesn’t add up to $548 because of costs the company incurs and because the estimated value is based on the manufacturers’ recommended price.

“The value of the items in the online prize store is based on the manufacturers’ suggested retail price plus the cost of shipping and handling, along with significant value-added services such as prize fulfillment, website services, promotional support, licensing fees, customer service, and inventory management, including the management of all prize points,” says Cartwright.

Lottery spokesman Christian Teja says the agency will investigate. “The Lottery doesn’t purchase individual prize store items,” he says in an email. “Payment for these prizes is invoiced to the Lottery as they are fulfilled by MDI… If MDI is not fulfilling its contractual obligations, the Lottery will address that directly with them.”

The Lottery has paid MDI more than $3.7 million for 6,788 pick-your-prize packages so far, with another $5.1 million available for prize claims.  All told, there are 16,000 “pick your prize” winners, 8,000 in each game.

The two second-chance drawings are associated with the Monopoly Jackpot and World Poker Tour instant games with five drawings in each game until the tickets are sold out. Most winners receive cash prizes ranging in size from $100 to $200,000, but some winners are allotted 35,000 “points” that they can spend in an online prize store. The 1,600 winners in each drawing can select a single prize for all 35,000 points or they can select multiple items that add up to no more than 35,000 points.

Either way, the value of the redeemed merchandise is supposed to come to about $548 and winners are not told the value of their prize includes management inventory control, marketing, customer service, website design and operation, and other services Cartwright cites.

The items in the online store include a variety of home, sports, jewelry, and entertainment goods, many of which are out-of-date and all of which have a retail value that doesn’t come close to what the point allocation infers. The store and the merchandise are, in essence, the virtual equivalent of the old Building 19—good stuff cheap, but mostly overstock and salvage.

For instance, a Cuisinart Convection Microwave Oven & Grill listed for the full 35,000 points has a retail value of between $175 on Amazon to $249 at Bed Bath & Beyond. The model being offered at the second-chance prize store was first manufactured in 2003 and many retailers no longer carry it.

A Dewalt 12V Max Li-lon 4-Tool Combo Kit, also valued at 35,000 points, is available for about $250 at Amazon, Home Depot, and Lowe’s.

Trying to cobble together a combination of items for 35,000 points yields similar results. A Brother Computerized Project Runway Limited Edition Sewing Machine is valued at 25,000 points, which should prorate to about 70 percent, or $390 of the $548 prize. But the machine can be purchased for about $160 at various outlets, including Walmart.

For the remainder of the 10,000 points, the options include items such as a Black & Decker Flex Cordless Canister Vac ($40-$70); a Major League Baseball Leather Laptop Backpack ($50-$62); or WPT 500 Chip Count & KEM Card Set ($90 only at the World Poker Tour website). Winners could also select several smaller items worth 5,000 points each that retail for less than $30 for a total package of under $240.

Of the more than 90 items available at the online store, most of which are available to winners of both games, the best chance at value comes with using 20,000 points on the Bose 151 SE Environment Outdoor Speakers, which retail at about $278. The winner can then spend the remaining 15,000 points on Margaritaville Black Sand Headphones that cost about $100, for a total prize package of $378, which is still $170 shy of the claimed value.

Most winners contacted by CommonWealth declined to comment, or chose to remain anonymous, though many admitted to being disappointed with the Lottery and the prizes. Ray Nicholas of Greenfield said he and his wife have won several times in previous second-chance drawings and said they were “disappointed” in the merchandise after comparing the cost of the items to what they could purchase online or at a retail store for much less money.

“It’s not quite right,” said Nicholas, a retired IT employee of the Franklin County Sheriff Department. “I guess if you win something and didn’t cost you anything more, people don’t squawk about it but it’s false advertising. That’s not right. We’re not happy we don’t get the advertised value.”

One MetroWest man, whose wife won two prizes in the most recent World Poker drawing, said he has won second chance prizes in other games in the past. In one game, he said, he won a ring the Lottery said was valued at $400.

“I brought it to a jeweler and I couldn’t get three bucks for it,” groused the man, who did not want to be named. “It’s a scam. They should give you cash even if it’s less. I would gladly take a $300 [payout] for it instead of 500 bucks in junk.”

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

Not everyone is disappointed with the haul or focused on the value, though. Gary Anderson of South Dennis got three items with his prize package, including a box of meats from Omaha Steaks which made for a good cookout. He said he knows the total of the items didn’t add up to $548—a CommonWealth calculation pegged it at about $265—but he and his family got pleasure out of what they received because he didn’t expect to win anyway.

“I was satisfied with what I got,” Anderson said. “It was certainly good enough for me.”