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In casino era, Goldberg will do ‘everything we can’ to boost lottery

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By Sam Doran and Michael Norton

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE — The Massachusetts Lottery is preparing for challenges posed by the opening of the Plainridge Park slots parlor later this month, and the coming of full-fledged casinos in the near future, according to Treasurer Deborah Goldberg.

During a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce forum this week at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, Goldberg, who oversees the Lottery, said the agency “cannot be complacent” and must go beyond just advertising to increase profits in the face of casino gambling.

Like her predecessors, Goldberg will face pressure during her four-year term to boost Lottery profits, which lawmakers and governors over the years have relied upon to increase aid to cities and towns.

While her predecessors have only had to measure up the potential of casinos to dent Lottery receipts, the threat is real for Goldberg.

Goldberg plans to install new wireless technology to replace obsolete hardware and terminals and to meet with retailers as part of what she says will be an “innovative and savvy” approach. With respect to the new slots parlor, she said she wants to know whether people will be “spending all their money at Plainridge and only buying gas” at nearby gas stations and convenience stores that serve Lottery patrons. Goldberg said she’ll be mindful of the needs of Lottery retailers.

Local communities put Lottery revenues to use, Goldberg said, pointing to this past winter as an example. Harsh weather decimated some local budgets and municipalities were able to “plug some of those holes” with unrestricted funds from the Lottery.

Fellow government employee Steve Crosby, the chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which is licensing casinos and helping to grow the new industry, is scheduled on June 23 – the day before Plainridge opens – to address a chamber breakfast.

“I was fascinated to see that Steve Crosby will be the next speaker,” Goldberg said with a smile Tuesday. “I may have to come, to hear what he has to say. As a competitive advantage, I should be here.”

Lottery Executive Director Beth Bresnahan is preparing to leave the agency at the beginning of July, and Goldberg in late May named her deputy general counsel, Michael Sweeney, as interim director. Sweeney has worked in the Treasury since 2010 and before that worked as planning director for the city of Lawrence.

In February, just after Goldberg took office, her team lowered expectations of Lottery profits earmarked for local aid by $35 million for the remainder of this year and next year due to spending cuts made by Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature to close a budget shortfall.

Bresnahan at the time said the Lottery needed to cancel three instant tickets that were scheduled for release, costing the state $12.4 million in profits in fiscal 2015 and $22.5 million in fiscal 2016.

With over 70 percent of Lottery sales coming from instant tickets, officials said net profits for the budget year that ends on June 30 were expected to total $935.4 million, down from $947.8 million.

In March, making the case to lawmakers for a $10 million Lottery ad budget that she predicted would lead to higher profits, Goldberg said that at $8 million, the Massachusetts Lottery ranked last in the nation in advertising dollars as a percentage of sales.

Goldberg used her speech to the business group to talk up a pilot college savings program for kindergarteners that will be introduced this fall. “These accounts will be funded through public-private partnerships,” she said, and “will teach basic financial literacy skills” to both children and parents. The program will “create aspirations for higher education or technical training,” she said.