Mass. Lottery marks 50 years of winners, losers and local aid
There were 4,783,000 tickets sold for the first drawing of The Game, but only seven had the winning numbers — 302424. And among those seven winners, only one could say they were the very first Massachusetts Lottery winner in history.
Fifty years ago Wednesday, on the morning of Thursday, April 6, 1972, the Massachusetts Lottery held its first-ever drawing at Faneuil Hall in Boston. Later in the day, Donald Cosentino of Gardner, then a 37-year-old furniture factory foreman, became the first lottery winner in state history when he certified his good fortune at Gardner City Hall.
“We have five children and I bought them all bicycles,” Cosentino, who is now 87 years old and still lives with his wife, Aline, in the same house that they lived in 50 years ago, said of his jackpot winnings. “We also bought a camper so that we could all go camping together. We were able to put the money to good use.”
Cosentino won one of the $50,000 top prizes by matching all six digits on the 50-cent ticket. He told the Gardner News in 2019 that a coworker at George B. Bent Co. bought a handful of tickets, held them out to him and told him to “pick one.”
The $50,000 prize in April 1972 would have the buying power of $341,826.51 in today’s economy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the 50-cent price of a ticket would today be more like $3.40.
The other $50,000 winners of that first drawing, according to a UPI story reprinted by MassLive as a photo, were Mildred Foley of Wethersfield, Conn., Kathleen Egan of Whitman, Laurence Stewart of Lenox, Evelyn Walsh of Duxbury, Mary Cardosa of New Bedford, and Paul Cella of Framingham.
Thirty-eight other people won prizes of $2,500, 467 people claimed $250 prizes, and there were 4,332 players who won $25. All of the cash winners and 43,076 non-winning ticket holders became eligible for a $1 million drawing that was held on May 8, 1972.
“Today is a special day in the Lottery’s history,” Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who oversees the Lottery and chairs the Lottery Commission, said Wednesday. “Our first drawing was just the beginning of 50 Years of Winning, and our very first top prize winner was one of many who have been able to turn their Lottery win into lasting memories for their families.”
The Massachusetts Legislature passed the bill to create the Massachusetts Lottery as a source of local aid revenue for cities and towns on Sept. 27, 1971, and the new agency kicked off its sales for The Game on March 22, 1972.
Since then, the Mass. Lottery has generated more than $137 billion in revenue, returned more than $30 billion in net profit for the Legislature to distribute to municipalities as unrestricted local aid, awarded more than $96 billion in prizes, and paid out more than $7.8 billion in commissions and bonuses to its statewide network of retailers.
For its first, partial year, the Lottery expected to provide about $21.9 million for local aid, the Newton Graphic reported in June 1972.
April 6 could be a lucky date for Lottery players. On April 6, 1999, the 27th anniversary of the first drawing, Maria Grasso cashed a ticket purchased at a Star Market in Boston and won a $197 million Big Game jackpot — at the time the largest payoff to a single winner in American lottery history. Grasso was working as a live-in babysitter for Chris Gabrieli, the 2002 Democratic lieutenant governor nominee, a candidate for governor in 2006, and the current chairman of the state Board of Higher Education.
Mark William Bracken, the Lottery’s interim executive director, said the agency plans to mark its 50-year anniversary throughout 2022 with special events and themed products.
“We are excited to show our appreciation for the customers, retailers, communities and employees who are all a part of our success story,” Bracken said.
Through April 24, every 50th purchase of a draw game ticket of $2 or more will produce a free $1 “Quic Pic” ticket for one of the Lottery’s in-state draw games (Mass Cash, Megabucks Doubler or Numbers Game).
And in March, the Lottery launched it largest ticket yet, an 8-inch by 8-inch “Jumbo Bucks” $10 scratch ticket with the same $50,000 top prize as the first drawing of The Game. Though not specifically tied to the 50th anniversary, the ticket promises the “best chance to win $50 in Massachusetts instant history” and all winning tickets contain prizes that add to at least $50.
The Lottery sold more than $13.96 million worth of the new tickets in its first week and about $16.5 million in the ticket’s first nine days on the market.
Though the Lottery launched in 1972, it was not until May of 1974 that it became the first state lottery in the country to sell scratch tickets as an alternative to weekly draw games. Today, instant tickets account for about 70 percent of the Lottery’s sales.
Three years after its launch, in March 1975, The Game was changed to the Big Money Game and the guaranteed top prize increased from $50,000 to $500,000. A half-hour television show based on the game began airing weekly in September of that year and stayed on the air for a decade.
Drawings became a daily event with the April 1976 introduction of the Numbers Game and 1978 saw the Mass. Lottery introduce the first “lotto-style” game in the country. Much like the modern multi-state MegaMillions or Powerball, players picked six numbers out of 49 possibilities and the game’s jackpot would grow with each drawing that did not produce a top prize winner.
“The game is cancelled after only 13 weeks due to slow sales and a failure to produce large jackpots,” the Lottery wrote in a 2013 document.
The Lottery has seen great success in recent years. Since fiscal year 2017, it has set and broken numerous sales and profit records and has topped the $1 billion profit mark three times. The agency is expected again to generate at least $1 billion for local aid this fiscal year.
But Goldberg and Lottery officials have also been unsuccessful in pushing for authorization for the Lottery to begin selling its products online, which the treasurer has said will be necessary for the Lottery to keep pace with casino gaming, daily fantasy sports, sports betting (if it is legalized here) and other gaming options.
Former Lottery executive director Michael Sweeney at various points compared the Lottery without an online presence to an old rotary phone — “revolutionary in its time” but also “a little bit clunky” — and to the Titanic — “We have been doing very well, but what I like to remind people is that the night before the Titanic hit the iceberg, it was setting a new record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean.”