BRAINTREE, Mass. — Shaking hands with someone who has just won a million dollars is not a bad way to make a living.
Lynn native Beth Bresnahan, 38, is the second woman and youngest person to head the Massachusetts State Lottery, which has 400 employees and 7,400 agents statewide. It generated $4.85 billion in sales last fiscal year, with $956 million returned to cities and towns in unrestricted local aid.
Bresnahan, who previously served as the lottery's assistant executive director and marketing and communications director, replaces Paul Sternburg, who resigned to work as a consultant in the lottery field and recommended her for the executive director's post.
Bresnahan, a graduate of St. Mary's High School in Lynn and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, takes over an agency coming off three straight years of record sales. She said she feels a responsibility to keep that record pace going at a time when the lottery faces a new challenge: the opening in the state of a slots parlor and three resort casinos, one of which will likely be located in Everett or Revere.
"We've seen estimates that we may see between a 3 percent and 10 percent drop in sales," said Bresnahan. A provision in the state's casino gaming law requires that casino operators also must become licensed lottery agents, and if they decide to offer keno in their casinos, it must be the lottery's already established game.
State Treasurer Steven Grossman, the head of the five-person Lottery Commission, named Bresnahan as the agency's 11th executive director last month.
"The most important quality that Beth brings to the job is proven leadership," said Grossman, whose office oversees the lottery. "In her years working in communications and as deputy director, she has shown me and all of us how skilled and imaginative she is, as well as being a team player."
Grossman said his decision to appoint Bresnahan was greeted warmly by lottery officials and staff.
"They have a great deal of respect and affection for her," he said.
Bresnahan is in her second stint with the lottery. She was director of communications from January 2005 to August 2007, for a time working for then-director Mark Cavanagh of Lynn before she left to join Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications.
She returned to the lottery in 2011 at Sternburg's urging and after Grossman's election, and in recent years Bresnahan has served as the agency's spokeswoman; monitored and expanded the agency's presence on the Web, including social media; had a hand in developing tickets for instant games; and helped develop successful partnerships with Boston's professional sports teams.
During her first stint she was part of a statewide tour of the Red Sox's 2004 World Series trophy, a tour that the lottery sponsored.
"There are 351 cities and towns, and I think I visited 300-something of them," she said.
Bresnahan, a lifelong Lynn resident, was only 16 — she skipped second grade — when she graduated from St. Mary's, where she played soccer and was a cheerleader.
She joined the school's board of trustees in 2012 and has been an active alumna and a role model for students there, according to Grace Cotter Regan, St. Mary's head of school. Bresnahan's sister, Carmel, is a junior at the school.
"She has embraced us and became our strategic partner when it comes to communications, public relations, and social media," said Regan. "She designed a new website and has succeeded in rebranding us and helping us draw students from other communities, which is very important in the competitive world of Catholic education."
Regan praised Bresnahan's "old-school work ethic," recalling her saying that she awoke early to make sure winning numbers from the night before have been properly posted where players can find them. "She makes us proud," she said.
As the lottery's chief spokeswoman and director of communications, Bresnahan at times has had to navigate some rocky shoals: the agency was embroiled in allegations against former state treasurer Tim Cahill, who was charged with using lottery advertising to aid his campaign for governor in 2010. After a trial that ended with a hung jury, Cahill last year agreed to pay a $100,000 fine to avoid further criminal prosecution.
In addition, in 2011 lottery officials were prompted to make changes to the Cash WinFall game after gambling groups discovered a way to monopolize the winnings.
Bresnahan said she considers the agency's reputation the most important component in continuing to grow sales.
"If the games aren't secure and the people running them aren't of the highest integrity, then people won't play them," she said.
Lottery revenue is distributed using a formula that includes population and per capita income. According to state Department of Revenue figures, Lynn — the second-largest city in the region with about 87,500 residents — received $19.4 million in unrestricted local aid in fiscal 2014, which ends July 1. Lowell, which has 104,000 residents, received $21.9 million. Somerville (76,500 residents) received $21.8 million.
Grossman said the state's cities and towns have come to rely on the lottery money as a given each year, and that creates a lot of pressure on Bresnahan.
"That's a lot of responsibility, no doubt," he said. "But Beth has shown coolness in every highly charged situation you can imagine."
By the numbers
The state lottery had sales of $4.85 billion and returned $956 million to cities and towns in fiscal 2013.
Massachusetts returned as prizes 72.6 percent of the money it took in, the highest percentage of any state. The second-highest among the 43 states that offer lotteries was Arkansas at 66.7 percent; the national average is 56.8 percent.
The lottery has 7,400 agents/outlets statewide, one for every 844 residents, the highest ratio to population in the country.
The highest-grossing lottery agent for 2013 was Ted's Stateline Mobil in Methuen, with $14 million in sales. The average agent makes about $37,000 a year from sales.
80 percent of the state's residents old enough to purchase tickets have bought at least one ticket in the last year.
There were 160 million-dollar winners in calendar year 2013; the biggest payout was a $61.4 million Powerball ticket claimed by Maureen Hinckley of Sterling. She took the game's cash option of $34.1 million.
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