With a wink and a nod, the state lottery has cashed thousands of tickets from the Jaafar family of Watertown. Members of the clan have turned in more than 7,000 winning lottery tickets, totaling $11 million. So far in 2017, one family member, Ali Jaafar, has claimed more than 900 prizes worth $1.3 million.
Meanwhile, in Lynn, 79-year-old Clarance Jones cashed lottery tickets for nearly half a million dollars. The tickets were purchased in 1,400 different stores.
Now, some people have extraordinary luck, and Jones may just really enjoy travel. But a far likelier explanation is that the repeat winners in Massachusetts, whose track records are well known to state officials, are up to no good. Authorities suspect the repeat winners are cashing tickets on behalf of other people who are trying to evade taxes, unpaid child support, or other debts, potentially costing the state millions of dollars. Cashing tickets purchased by other people isn’t illegal, but doing so for the purpose of dodging taxes is.
The state auditor has been warning of such scams for the last two decades, and repeat winners, who are believed to take a commission for cashing the winning tickets, have been the subject of repeated Globearticles. But only now is the lottery changing its policy. As of Oct. 1, the lottery will be able to freeze payouts to customers who redeem six or more prizes of $1,000 or more during a 12-month period.
Hopefully, the new policy signals a stricter level of oversight more generally. State officials also turned the other way when groups of gamblers figured out a loophole in a lottery game that enabled certain players to virtually ensure winnings. In 2012, the state inspector general found that lottery officials had been aware of the scheme but had not stopped it or warned the public (the game has been discontinued).
The lottery is extremely successful, and funnels millions of dollars into the coffers of local governments. The success of the lottery rests, in part, on the perception that the games are really random, and that the proceeds benefit cities and towns.
Cheats and tax scammers strike at the heart of that reputation. The fact that Massachusetts is first in the nation in repeat winners, as an analysis by PennLive.com and students from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism found, is nothing to be proud of. Hopefully, that dubious distinction will instead prod lottery officials to exercise tighter control going forward.