Gaming the Lottery

See How Much Money Your Town Or City Gives, And Gets From, The Lottery

Every year, about a fifth of the revenue the Massachusetts State Lottery collects from those who play is handed out to the state’s 351 towns and cities. While more than 300 of those communities are home to convenience stores, bars or other places where people can buy lottery products, about 40 towns — mostly small, all with populations under 14,000 — do not sell any.

The decades-old formula the state uses to distribute lottery funds attempts to deliver more money to places with greater populations and/or places with lower property values. But it does not consider whether a municipality sells lottery products — or how much it sells. That means that some cities and towns are relative “winners,” gaining more funds compared to their sales, while other places stand out as “losers,” or places where a lot of money is spent on the lottery and relatively little comes back.

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Our interactive map, below, highlights those disparities.

Specifically, it shows how much money each town or city put into the pool of state lottery revenue over the past five years, from 2013 to 2017. Think of that as “money out.” It also conveys the dollar amount each municipality received in lottery revenue in that same period. That’s “money in.”

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Just by looking at the colors on the map, you can see which towns and cities have fared better than others when it comes to money in versus money out. The colors reflect the ratio between lottery sales that took place in a community, and the lottery revenue it received. Most places, those in beige, are in the same middle-of-the-pack range, but there are outliers. The greener the community, the more that ratio worked in its favor; the redder the town or city, the worse it fared.

As you can see, over the last five years, Boston retailers sold about $2.7 billion in lottery products and received about $850 million in lottery revenue. So for every $3.23 that Boston sold in lottery products, the city got a dollar back.

The town of Harvard and the island community of Nantucket are on opposite ends of the spectrum, when it comes to this lottery distribution system. For more on those towns — and expert opinion on this formula — go here.