US Lawbreakers or just really lucky? Mass. has more repeat lottery winners than any other state

19:40  06 august  2017
19:40  06 august  2017 Source:   The Boston Globe

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But Massachusetts has more repeat lottery winners than any other state , people who redeem so many winning tickets that they raise questions about the integrity and oversight of the billion state lottery , according to a first-of-its-kind analysis of nearly 11 million lottery records from 34 states .

Mass . has more repeat lottery winners than any other state . Some repeat winners are also suspected of cashing tickets passed on to them by store clerks who pocket scratch tickets from customers who don’t realize they’ve hit a jackpot.

A man scratched a lottery ticket.© Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff A man scratched a lottery ticket. Over the last six years, four members of the Jaafar family of Watertown have cashed in more than 7,000 winning lottery tickets and collected a cool $11 million.

Statistics suggest it’s nearly impossible to win the lottery that frequently. But Massachusetts has more repeat lottery winners than any other state, people who redeem so many winning tickets that they raise questions about the integrity and oversight of the $5 billion state lottery, according to an analysis of nearly 11 million lottery records from 34 states conducted by PennLive.com and students from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. The Fund for Investigative Journalism supported the project.

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Lawbreakers or just really lucky ? Mass . has more repeat lottery winners than any other state . Some people redeem so many winning tickets that they raise questions about the integrity and oversight of the billion state lottery .

Lawbreakers or just really lucky ? Mass . has more repeat lottery winners than any other state . Some people redeem so many winning tickets that they raise questions about the integrity and oversight of the billion state lottery .

State officials have long suspected that some of the most frequent winners are cashing lottery tickets for customers who don’t want to claim the money themselves because they owe taxes, child support, or other debts, which would be garnished from their winnings. Some repeat winners are also suspected of cashing tickets passed on to them by store clerks who pocket scratch tickets from customers who don’t realize they’ve hit a jackpot. In exchange, the professional cashers, known as Ten Percenters, are believed to keep a cut of the prize money, perhaps 10 percent.

Reports from the state auditor’s’ office dating back nearly two decades have warned that such practices are rampant and may be costing the state and federal governments millions in lost tax revenue. But such warnings have not stopped Massachusetts from turning into a haven for lottery players who win more than 1,000 times a year, easily outpacing the most frequent winners in Georgia, Ohio, and other large states who typically redeem fewer than 100 tickets per year.

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Lawbreakers or just really lucky ? Mass . has more repeat lottery winners than any other state . “ Really it looks like 2,000 people that Australia does not want and I do not blame you by the way, but the United States has become like a dumping ground,” he said.

Lawbreakers or just really lucky ? Mass . has more repeat lottery winners than any other state . Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.

“I do not know if our oversight is lacking in comparison to other states,” said Michael R. Sweeney, executive director of the Massachusetts Lottery Commission. “What I do know is our oversight needs to do better, can be better, and I guarantee will you be better on this issue.”

Beginning Oct. 1, the lottery will enforce a new policy designed to crack down on players who cash a suspiciously high number of tickets. The policy will allow the state to freeze payouts to customers who redeem six or more prizes of $1,000 or more during a 12-month period. Players who are suspended will have an opportunity to appeal and show they are not violating the law. Sweeney said it is legal to cash other people’s tickets, but illegal to do so if the goal is to help them dodge taxes or debts.

Despite that law, Massachusetts has had more than 50 residents who have cashed more than 200 lottery tickets worth at least $600 each over the last six years, giving the state more repeat winners than all other states for which data is available.

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Some of the winners assert that they are professional gamblers who spend most of their time and money buying scratch tickets, and barely break even. But the tickets they cash come from so many far-flung stores, officials say it is hard to believe they are buying them alone, and not collecting them from others.

“In some instances, it almost makes you wonder if there would be enough hours in the day to even buy that number of tickets,” Sweeney said.

Ali M. Jaafar of Watertown is a typically quizzical case. A 59-year-old who has run his own taxi and phone-card businesses, he won the lottery more than 1,400 times last year, the highest total in Massachusetts and nationwide.

Over the last six years, he has won more than 5,800 times, collecting $8.9 million. But he wasn’t just buying from his local variety store. His tickets were purchased at 1,200 stores in 160 communities ranging from Springfield to Nantucket.

“Do not want to talk about it,” Jaafar said, and rolled up the window of his Ford Explorer, when asked by two reporters how he manages to win the lottery so frequently. At the four stores in Watertown, Somerville, and Allston where he bought most of his tickets, clerks said they had no recollection of anyone named Jaafar frequenting their shop.

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Over the last six years, four members of the Jaafar family of Watertown have cashed in more than 7,000 winning lottery tickets and collected a cool million. Statistics suggest it's nearly impossible to win the lottery that frequently.

Three other members of his family, Yousef, Munif, and Mohamed Jaafar, are also frequent winners. Over the last six years, they’ve cashed 1,200 tickets worth more than $2.1 million.

Yousef and Mohamed Jaafar have also run into legal trouble.

Last October, they were among 47 people indicted by a New Jersey grand jury for allegedly taking part in a massive fraud ring. Prosecutors say the scheme involved residents of Florida, New Jersey, and Massachusetts sending emails to coworkers claiming they needed money for work-related projects and invoices. Prosecutors say the victims were duped into handing over $50,000 to $450,000.

Yousef and Mohamed Jafaar each pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree conspiracy, and are due to be sentenced in November.

Lynn is home to the longtime most frequent winner in Massachusetts and the nation, a 79-year-old named Clarance W. Jones, who asserts that he is a professional gambler.

Over the last six years, Jones has cashed more than 7,300 tickets for more than $11 million. Perhaps improbably for a man of his age, his tickets were purchased at 1,400 stores in 150 cities and towns, including Nantucket.

In 2011, he successfully defeated an effort by state officials to collect taxes on his prize money by claiming that he spends as much on the lottery as he wins. As proof, he produced boxes of losing lottery, Keno, and horse-racing tickets that his attorney said had been kept in a storage locker. Professional gamblers are entitled to deduct their losses under federal and state tax rules.

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Over the last six years, four members of the Jaafar family of Watertown have cashed in more than 7,000 winning lottery tickets and collected a cool million. Statistics suggest it's nearly impossible to win the lottery that frequently.

Over the last six years, four members of the Jaafar family of Watertown have cashed in more than 7,000 winning lottery tickets and collected a cool million. Statistics suggest it's nearly impossible to win the lottery that frequently.

Jones also submitted into evidence a manual he had written entitled “The Gambler,” which contained his “trade secrets” for beating the Massachusetts lottery, which he called “the easiest lottery system.” Those “secrets” included buying tickets in the middle of a pack where he believed the winning tickets are grouped, and buying from stores that had recently sold prize winners, reasoning they had a greater chance of selling another jackpot.

Contacted by phone, Jones told a Globe reporter to call his attorney, who did not return phone messages.

Sweeney, of the state lottery, pointed out that Massachusetts may have more lottery winners because residents here spend $746 per person per year on the lottery, more than residents of any other state. Massachusetts also devotes the highest percentage of its lottery revenue to prizes, giving people more opportunities to win large sums.

Still, Sweeney acknowledged that some players rack up so many wins that they must be bending the rules.

“It defies legal logic, and it mandates a deeper drill down, in my opinion, of all the appropriate agencies and state and federal organizations,” he said.

Other states have been more aggressive in cracking down on repeat winners. Florida shuttered more than two dozen lottery vendors found to be illegally brokering winning tickets or stealing them from unsuspecting customers. Florida also added an audible tone to lottery terminals so customers know when the ticket they’ve bought is a winner.

Connie Barnes, a Florida Lottery spokeswoman, said while the state had success in cracking down on unscrupulous vendors, it has been hard to stop professional ticket cashers unless they’re caught in the act.

“We know there’s something going on,” she said, “but we can’t prove it.”

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