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Suit says grocers let minors buy lottery tickets

A national antigambling group says Star Market and Stop & Shop failed to stop minors from buying lottery tickets at vending machines in their Massachusetts stores.
A national antigambling group says Star Market and Stop & Shop failed to stop minors from buying lottery tickets at vending machines in their Massachusetts stores.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2014)

A national antigambling group is accusing Star Market and Stop & Shop of failing to stop minors from buying lottery tickets at vending machines in their Massachusetts stores.

The Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation sued Star Market Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court after Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley’s 14-year-old son was filmed buying lottery tickets at two of its supermarkets in September. The foundation said it filed suit after being unable to get Star to block access to the vending machines for minors.

The group made a similar request of Stop & Shop after the same teenager bought a lottery ticket at a vending machine at the chain’s Arlington store Monday.

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Massachusetts law prohibits vendors from selling lottery tickets to people under age 18.

“State lotteries exploit our citizens and contribute to the rising unfairness in our society,” said Les Bernal, national director of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation.

“These free-standing lottery machines are a prime example. They open the door to kids becoming habitual scratch ticket users.”

Both companies declined to comment. The Massachusetts Lottery itself isn’t named in the suit.

Andrew Rainer, an attorney for the Boston-based Public Health Advocacy Institute who is representing Kelley and the antigambling group, said there are limits on what claims can be brought against the lottery, which is run by the state.

By default, lottery machines are “unlocked,” meaning anyone can buy tickets directly from them. But Rainer said the machines can be locked with a small remote control and urged stores to verify a customer’s age before unlocking the boxes to permit a sale, as is done with cigarette machines.

“We’d certainly welcome the involvement of the lottery commission in resolving this issue,” Rainer said. “The lottery commission does set some of the rules of engagement, such as how the machines are programmed by the lottery commission vendor.”

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Lottery officials said they contacted retailers after the issue arose last summer to emphasize the importance of monitoring the machines.

Christian Teja, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Lottery, said the agency would be open to playing a role in the negotiations.

“While it’s unusual for an unnamed party to be involved in a settlement of this type of litigation, the lottery would be glad to work with the two sides to reach a settlement that ensures lottery products are sold only to individuals 18 years of age or older,” he said.


Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.

Correction: Because of a reporter error, an earlier version of this article gave the wrong name for the person who filmed a minor buying lottery tickets. The correct name is Mark Gottlieb, the head of the Public Health Advocacy Institute.