Lottery fever

Most people probably don’t remember Candido Oliveira of Dorchester hit the Mega Millions jackpot two years ago. Or that Rosa DeLeon of Arlington and Reginald LeBlanc of Lexington, coworkers at the Costco store in Waltham, split the Powerball jackpot in December. The good fortune of Jimmy Freeman of Fall River, a retired civilian worker for the Navy, probably registers with few beyond his friends and neighbors after he collected the grand prize in Powerball in 2011.

All four winners were the latest Massachusetts bettors to reap megabucks from a random set of six numbers. Because they “only” won $25 million to $50 million, they got their picture in the paper next to a brief about their new-found riches. Where once the Lottery jingle that asked “What would you do with a million dollars?” triggered fantasies of tropical retirements, it seems that ticket-buying frenzies don’t kick in until jackpots hit the $300 million mark or more. Tonight’s Powerball jackpot of an estimated $425 million fits the bill.

Of note, neither the Boston Globe nor the Boston Herald have taken notice of the growing jackpot, with only the Herald running a wire story datelined out of Iowa. But when the numbers start to climb into that stratosphere, even the residents of towns such as Weston, Sherborn, and Cohasset, where per capita spending on Lottery is among the lowest in the state, begin to ramp up their purchases.

“I wish I had a better explanation, but when the game starts rolling the jackpots start growing. And when the numbers start to grow, people start to get excited,” Erica Palmisano, spokeswoman with the Maryland Lottery, told the Washington Times. “It used to be $100 million, now it’s $200 million or $300 million. That’s when people who aren’t regular players start to play.”

Part of the explanation is the price of a Powerball ticket doubling last year from $1 to $2, which has escalated the growth of the top prize much more quickly. Also, California got into the game last year, bringing the largest population in the country into the till.

But some observers say the recession and dreams of quick fixes have contributed to the growth of lotteries in general and big money games in particular. These observers say the games are preying on the desperation of those who can least afford it. Of the 15 largest big-money jackpot prizes in history, 11 of them have been claimed since the start of the recession in 2007. The three biggest prizes in lottery history have been claimed since the beginning of last year, including the mother of all prizes, a $656 million Mega Millions jackpot, a relative bargain at $1 compared with the Powerball ticket at twice the price.

But much of the fever – and jackpot fatigue — can be attributed to the brilliance of marketing and the ability to sell the media on just what a “jackpot” is. Tonight’s grand prize of $425 million is the number everyone focuses on but the odds are the winner will opt for the “cash option” and accept a check for  about $245 million minus taxes, roughly in the neighborhood of $170 million depending upon in which state it is won. Nice neighborhood but not the exclusive community many dream of when they see the numbers approaching a half-billion.

Since 2007, only one grand prize winner took the payout in annuities over a 29-year period. Of the remaining 94 jackpot winners in that span, 92 took the cash. One ticket from earlier this year is still pending and one prize in 2011 from a ticket sold in Georgia went unclaimed, wasting a perfectly good $70 million. Mega Millions, which offers a relatively higher cash option because of a different method of investing and payout, has similar claim numbers.

The bottom line, though, is whether it’s $170 million in your pocket immediately or a $425 million nest egg to count on in your golden years, few people will complain about the return on their $2 investment.

                                                                                                                                                         –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Two freshman legislators, Rep. Diane DiZoglio of Methuen and Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives of Newburyport, deny they flip-flopped on taxes by voting against the transportation funding plan initially yet voting to override Gov. Deval Patrick’s veto of the measure.

Business groups say they plan to seek repeal of the new computer services tax through a ballot question, the Associated Press reports (via WBUR). Information technology companies try to figure out what the new computer services tax applies to, the Salem News reports.

Anti-tax activists say they plan to mount a ballot challenge to a section of the new transportation funding law that allows the gas tax to rise with inflation, which the opponents are calling a forever tax, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

An organization representing minority police officers is calling for the resignation of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, saying minority officers are singled out for harsher disciplinary action under his rule and have a harder time gaining promotions.

While remote participation has been approved since 2011 for meetings of municipal boards in all the state’s cities and towns, fewer than 5 percent of communities have adopted policies to allow it.

Plymouth is the latest community to ban so-called sky lanterns. devices that burn fuel in a container attached to a paper balloon to fill it with hot air to create aerial light displays. Fire officials are concerned the devices could land on buildings or in wooded areas before all the fuel is spent.

Foxboro will spend $500,000 to buy out the contract of town manager Kevin Paicos.

Leominster city councilor Susan Chalifoux Zephir will challenge longtime mayor Dean Mazzarella.

CASINOS

Penn National Gaming offers more details about its proposed slots parlor in Tewksbury, which it is calling the Merrimack Valley Casino, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Doug Flutie says he would open a sports bar at the casino, the Lowell Sun reports.

Hopkinton officials say the Gaming Commission is redacting from its records all information about the backers of a proposed casino in Milford, the MetroWest Daily News reports.

The Sun Chronicle ponders the future of a Plainridge Racecourse without slot machines.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Globe’s Matt Viser has a delicious look at the uneasy relationship between Elizabeth Warren and Larry Summers, who is back in the news as President Obama’s possible choice to run the Fed.

ELECTIONS

CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas describes Charlotte Golar Richie as a barrier-breaking candidate of the status quo. Richie gets a shout out in a story in the Daily Beast about women Democrats who are attracting attention as they run for office across the nation. Richie attempts to capitalize on that attention, as she’s looking to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles for campaign funds. Richie isn’t the only one: Out-of-town cash is king in the Boston mayor’s race, CommonWealth reports. Mayor Tom Menino begins his usual keep ‘em guessing game about a possible election endorsement, this time in the race to succeed him.

The Herald reports that 2010 gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker is gearing up for another run at the Corner Office. Joe Battenfeld suggests that Baker act more approachable and cut out the endless parade of outraged, content-less press conferences, but then urges Baker to run alongside Taunton Rep. (and EBT hawk) Shaunna O’Connell.

Recent elections highlight a shift in voting patterns in Boston, report Lawrence DiCara and James Sutherland in CommonWealth.

Easthampton’s mayor, Michael Tautznik, becomes the first Democratic to throw in for the state Senate seat opening up with the resignation of Westfield Republican Michael Knapik.

The New York Times reports that Senate hopeful Cory Booker founded a potentially lucrative Silicon Valley startup with investments from high-profile campaign donors like Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The SEC and Justice Department sue Bank of America over a soured 2008 housing bond deal.

The White House unveils its latest proposal for overhauling home mortgages.

The Brookings Institution’s William Galston decries a 40-year middle class losing streak in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column.

RELIGION

The Vatican denied an appeal from parishioners to overturn the decision to shutter the historic St. John the Baptist Church in New Bedford, the first Portuguese parish in North America.

EDUCATION

The University of Massachusetts is exploring locating a satellite campus in Springfield, CommonWealth reports.

A report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says about half of the $1 trillion student debt is not being repaid because borrowers struggle to make payments, with more than 7 million borrowers in default.

Salem State University is planning to build an 800-space parking garage on campus, the Salem News reports.

A Carver woman has filed suit against school officials there charging they’ve failed to stop the bullying of her son who she says has been targeted for harassment because he is Jewish.

HEALTH CARE

Obesity rates among low-income preschoolers have fallen slightly in recent years, providing some hope that the surge in obesity may have peaked.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 2012 was one of the warmest years on record, the Los Angeles Times reports.

New federal flood maps set to go into effect in the fall could trigger increases in flood insurance premiums by as much as 10 times the current cost in some coastal areas.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Jury deliberations start in the Whitey Bulger trial. Former State Police investigator Tom Foley tells Peter Gelzinis he’s afraid the trial did little to put to rest the real Bulger scandal — the ties between the mobster and the Boston FBI.

MEDIA

The PBS NewsHour will soon be coanchored by two women, the New York Times reports.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. 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.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. 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.

Media Matters raises concerns about plans by NBC and CNN to run a miniseries and documentary about Hillary Clinton.

Ken Doctor, writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab, offers an interesting and entertaining analysis of why the Washington Post sold to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Washington Post editor Marty Baron (who previously worked at the Globe) is optimistic about the sale of the Post, WBUR reports. The New York Times examines the prospects of Bezos bringing an innovation agenda to the Post. A Wall Street Journal editorial urges Bezos and new Globe owner John Henry to be active owners who shake up newsroom culture and reward skeptical coverage.