Bob Hurtubise mused Thursday about what he would do if he hit it big on a Lottery game.
The Ashburnham, Massachusetts, resident would buy a nice house and secure savings for his kids, he said.
"I'll play a quick pick on big number games," Hurtubise said. "But I'll just play one. If you're doing any more than that, you're just making donations."
Now that gas prices have reached nearly $3 per gallon, he guessed more people will hold onto their cash for other expenses.
"That money's more important now," Hurtubise said. "I bet some people are asking, 'Why risk it?'"
But that's apparently not the case.
People are purchasing Massachusetts Lottery tickets in record numbers, Lottery Communications Director Beth Bresnahan said Thursday, despite rising gas prices.
"Our fiscal year hasn't ended yet, so we haven't calculated the final sales. We close the year June 30th," she said. "But we're on pace to have our third consecutive record year."
Despite rising fuel prices, Bresnahan said lottery ticket sales will likely beat last year's total revenue of $4.4 billion.
"Like every entertainment option, we expect rising gas prices to affect sales," she said. "Just like movie sales and the travel industry, I'm sure we feel some of that. The difference is the pay-out. With Mega Millions, people say, 'I'll spend the dollar and take my chance at $10 million.'"
But one area resident say it's becoming harder to justify spending extra money on scratch tickets and lottery games.
Westminster resident Bill Cristofone stops into Bourbeau's Market in Leominster to buy scratch tickets on his way home from work, he said.
Cristofone bought three $2 tickets Thursday, and said if he wins a few dollars, he'll turn the money in to buy more tickets.
"I get 'em, then I turn them in for cash," he said, waving his new tickets. "I'm trying to win big, I'm trying to get lucky."
He's been lucky a few times, winning about $500 on one ticket recently.
"I get a couple a day," Cristofone said. "In the last few days, I've probably spent about $30 on tickets. I won some money on a $10 ticket, turned around and bought some cheaper ones."
He said he feels as if he's breaking even some times, but other times he thinks he's losing money.
"People have less money in their pockets nowadays," he said. "You're taking a chance."
The long odds
He's not kidding.
The odds of winning the highest prize on a 10-dollar ticket are approximately 6.4 million to one, according to the Massachusetts Lottery Web site.
A player's chances of winning the state's highest-paying game, Mega Millions — with a jackpot of $12 million this week — are one in 175,711,536.
The probability of winning the million-dollar top prize in a game of Keno — by guessing 12 numbers correctly — is the worst in the lottery: A player has a one in 478,261,833 chance.
Bourbeau's owner, Paul Grimley, said lottery purchases have remained consistent over the years, regardless of economic situations.
"It's a lot to do with the fact that you can spend $1 and win $4,000," he said. "People look at it this way: It's easy to spend a dollar these days. There's not much you can get anymore for just a dollar."
Kathleen Denmark prefers playing Keno — a video number guessing game — to scratch tickets.
Denmark, owner of Dempsey's Pub in Fitchburg, has taken home two $10,000 prizes in Keno games, she said.
"I like it better," she said. "You feel like you have more chances to win."
Dempsey's patrons pool money for Keno games, play video slots, meet for poker tournaments and buy games from a scratch ticket machine next to the bar.
"Gambling is huge in this area," Denmark said.
But lottery sales in her bar have suffered slightly since gas prices have risen.
"It's definitely slowed down," she said. "Every business, everywhere, has slowed down a little."
Mike Twomey won $1,400 on two scratch tickets in the past ten days.
"I buy tickets a couple times a week," he said. "I don't do it because I think I'm going to win a ton of money the more I spend. It's not luck. If you buy tickets regularly, you're bound to win a little."
The Shrewsbury resident plans to put his recent winnings toward his upcoming wedding, he said.
He says he has seen a person lose $10,000 in one night while gambling at a casino, and said no one should play the lottery and expect not to lose.
"Overall, everybody loses," Twomey said while playing video slots at Dempsey's. "The lottery wouldn't be in business if everyone won."
A winning business
The Massachusetts Lottery pays out 71.6 percent of profits in prize money, Bresnahan said.
Last year, that amounted to about $3.2 billion in prizes.
The rest of the revenue generated from sales goes to pay for distribution costs, Lottery employee salaries and local aid funding for cities and towns, she said.
"About 1.8 percent of revenue goes to fund administrative costs, which last year amounted to about $81 million," she said. "That's the lowest administrative cost in the nation, which allows us to have the highest prize payout in the nation."
But the percentage of prize payout money can confuse some players, said Margot Cahoon, a spokesperson from the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling.
"They see a number like that, and think they have an X-percent chance of winning every time they play," she said. "Whether the number is misleading, or it's ignorance on the part of the player, it's what we consider a fallacy of odds."
Cahoon cautioned that problem gamblers often spend more money on gambling than they can afford to lose.
"Some signs (of gambling addiction) are if people are losing but they're still going back for more, if they're preoccupied with gambling and always planning their next venture," she said. "Buying scratch tickets and lottery tickets can be just as addictive as another kind of gambling, and in some cases, even more so."