All bets are off

It could be desperation has eased as the economy recovers from the Great Recession. It could be the middle- and lower-classes, the targets of most low-level gambling, are tapped out after being left on the edges of that recovery. It could be boredom. It could be saturation.

Or it just could be all of the above. Whatever the reason, there are signs everywhere that spending on legal gambling is taking a hit and expanding those options may just be a matter of shuffling the cards rather than drawing in new money.

Massachusetts Lottery officials delivered the grim news that through the first five months of the fiscal year, sales are essentially flat, down by $11.5 million or roughly 0.5 percent. But the biggest hit came in the Lottery’s bread and butter, the instant gratification scratch tickets, which comprise 70 percent of Lottery sales. Revenues for scratch tickets were down $43.5 million through November, a drop of 3 percent, and officials say don’t expect it to get better.

“Instant tickets is our biggest revenue driver,” Michael Sweeney, the executive director, told the Lottery Commission. “That’s what’s dragging down the performance elsewhere. There simply is not another engine that’s a dependable, predictable engine that’s going to make up for losing that 70 percent driver month over month.”

State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, who oversees the Lottery, said the gap in revenues from last year’s record-breaking year to this year will look even bigger over the next two months as sales figures begin getting compared to Powerball mania at this time last year when the jackpot hit an unfathomable $1.5 billion. Goldberg indicated if it wasn’t for the mega-jackpot, the new heights would not have been hit and last year’s sales would have been equally anemic.

“I just really want to emphasize that I don’t want any sticker shock at our January meeting when we see comparisons to last year,” she said. “I really want to have it in everyone’s head that the Powerball really drove sales up and it was an anomaly. It made our year. Unless something extraordinary like that happens again, I just don’t want people to go, ‘What happened?’”

Goldberg has been using the waning sales a clarion call to expand the games into the Internet to capture the youth audience. State law prohibits the use of credit or debit cards or telephone betting on Lottery games, though the agency allows use of debit cards at its headquarters. But Sweeney points out that we are increasingly becoming a cashless society and more and more people are conducting commerce online, making a move by the Lottery onto the web a no-brainer.

But allowing that type of gambling doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a new found source of money. Rather, it’s a good bet it’s just a way to draw spending from other forms of gambling as numbers everywhere show a measurable, if not completely alarming, decline in betting. Casino gambling, especially slots, are on a downward trend most everywhere, definitely not a good sign for Massachusetts’s emerging private gaming industry.

For months, the story out of Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, the state’s only slots parlor, was revenues were far behind projections. Recently, officials there have said their games earn more per individual machine than any other in the country. The spin is the casino was the victim of outsized expectations and could never meet those types of numbers. But that’s sort of the point: Rosy predictions for expanded gambling are often too good to be true, raising the question of how much is too much when it comes to using gaming revenues as a foundation for sound budgeting.

Lottery online may be coming to a computer screen near you, but don’t bet the house money it will be a panacea because whatever it pulls in will likely be at the expense of other gaming revenue. Gambling giveth and gambling taketh away.

JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

The Black and Latino Legislative Caucus is calling for a delay in today’s scheduled release of final recommendations on criminal justice reform from a panel convened by top state leaders, echoing the concerns raised by other groups that the effort is focusing too narrowly on probation and parole and not considering changes to sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sanctions. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston’s Seaport is getting a gleaming children’s new park named for Martin Richard, the 8-year-old killed in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. (Boston Globe)

Braintree’s internal town auditor, hired earlier this year on a three-year contract which paid him $130 an hour, is leaving the post after just six months. (Patriot Ledger)

Ayer officials are spending $79,000 to clear rats from a farm that had to be shut down after animals were discovered there living in terrible conditions. (Lowell Sun)

Easton Town Administrator David Colton rejected an offer from the board of selectmen to resign made during a closed-door executive session, saying he intends to serve out the remainder of the 18 months on his contract. (The Enterprise)

The Springfield unemployment rate falls to 4.9 percent. (MassLive)

Southborough selectmen postponed a hearing to remove a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals charged with bullying attendees of public meetings after a group of citizens filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission charging the zoning board member with conflicts of interest. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A one-time law student of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who went on to become an enforcement attorney at her prized Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, picks apart the agency as well as the Dodd-Frank Act, saying they were good ideas that went off the rails because of partisan (read: liberal) influence. (National Review)

ELECTIONS

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he believes a backlash against the country’s first black president played a role in the election of Donald Trump. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Good news and bad news for Fall River. The good: The city’s unemployment rate fell to a 16-year low in November. The bad: Surplus Solutions, a company that buys and refurbishes equipment for the medical, biotech, and pharmaceutical industries, is moving to Rhode Island, lured by a tax credit. (Herald News)

Is online shopping doing to brick-and-mortar stores what the Internet has done to the news business? (U.S. News & World Report)

EDUCATION

Massachusetts Teachers Association president Barbara Madeloni implores state education officials not to add graduation tests in history and social science even though officials say state law requires the exams. (State House News)

The Easton schools superintendent is leaving after three years to take over as superintendent of the Dover-Sherborn regional school district. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Gloucester officials say they have been told by the state’s Group Insurance Commission that the city’s health care costs will rise $1.3 million, or 9.9 percent, in the coming fiscal year. (Gloucester Times)

A study from the Harvard School of Public Health finds elderly patients treated by female doctors fare better, with lower mortality rates and hospital readmissions than those treated by men. (Greater Boston)

Texas officials issued a formal notice that they intend to cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood in a move that will affect health care for 11,000 patients. (New York Times)

TRANSPORTATION

A serial MBTA groper is arrested for indecent assault and battery on the Red Line. It was the groper’s ninth arrest. (Salem News)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

President Obama used an obscure 1953 law to declare parts of the Atlantic and Arctic permanently off-limits to offshore drilling, an executive order that is sure to be challenged in court by the incoming administration. (New York Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Monday’s overturning of convictions in the state Probation Department corruption case could make prosecutors more cautious about pursuing public corruption cases — though some observers think federal prosecutors will remain as aggressive as ever. (Boston Globe) The Herald’s Matt Stout says it’s the latest in a string of outcomes tarnishing the reputation of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz. It could be a setback for her case against two former Boston City Hall aides, writes Bob McGovern. (Boston Herald) A Herald editorial says there was plenty of wrongdoing in the Probation Department despite the legal vindication for its former chief and two top aides. (Boston Herald)

A man identified former Patriots player Aaron Hernandez as the shooter who killed two of his friends, but defense lawyers objected during the hearing to allowing the man to testify at trial, saying his account is unreliable and that it includes information he gleaned from TV reports after the killings. (Boston Herald)

Twin sisters are found guilty of bilking the Lawrence schools, Medicaid, and Medicare out of $570,000 for psychological services the sisters were not qualified to provide. (Eagle-Tribune)

MEDIA

The Globe’s print edition continues to contract little by little with the Tuesday Stories section eliminated and that content spread throughout the rest of the paper. (Media Nation) The Globe is using Facebook groups to engage more directly with readers. (Digiday)