A Scratch Away From Success

Scratch Lottery Sensation Sweeps Massachusetts

Boston postal worker Terri Candido has the itch to scratch. She's not suffering from a skin syndrome; she is the victim of an even more costly affliction: a "scratch" lottery obsession.

And Candido is not alone in her scratch compulsion. In her home state of Massachusetts, residents spent $3.4 billion on tickets in 1998. This is the equivalent of $500 for every man, woman and child who lives there, more than in any state in the nation, reports 48 Hours Correspondent Harold Dow.

"I heard others were winning so I said,...'If I buy a couple more,...maybe I'll win,'" says Candido.

That flight of the imagination became a reality when she won $25,000. Then she tried to scratch her way to a fortune.

"I love to scratch," she says. "Two weeks ago I won $2,000...and three weeks before that I won $2,000." She admits to spending more than seven hours on her feet, playing the game that came to control her life.

"I went out at 1 o'clock....I was going to play a couple of games and then go shopping," she explains. "I was there from 1 to 3...and then 6 to 11:30....I get tired standing up!"

Candido was $50,000 in debt in 1998. There are an estimated quarter million people in Massachusetts addicted to gambling.

48 Hours visited a Gamblers Anonymous group, filled with those who have crashed and burned playing scratch.

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"I don't have a figure...but for a good part of the time, whatever I earned, I lost," says Ann Avelino, a suburban mother of two. "The first day I ever played, I won $500."

A man, who identified himself simply as Jack, knows exactly how she feels. He hit the scratch for a million dollars.

"See, the great obsession of the compulsive gambler is to win big money," he says.

"If I could only hit it,...I could cure the problem. Because I had myself thinking it was a financial problem," Jack explains.

Jack not only ended up gambling away all his winnings, but he didnt stop until he was $90,000 in debt. His line of attack was simple.

"The strategy was to buy the book, and if I didn't win in that book, buy another, he says, laughing. "The problem that I see with the state is they make it too easy for us."

"Being at home with two small children,...I wouldn't go to a race track or a casino," Avelino explains. "It's very convenient,...I was always going to the store for bread or for...eggs."

Former legislator George Sacco helped bring the lottery to Masschusetts more than 25 years ago. He says the state is on a bender.

"There's too much damn gambling going on," says Sacco. "St. Patrick said a little wine for the stomach....He didn't say a whole gallon! We thought we were voting for a once a week sweepstakes....Now it's Mass Millions one night, Megabucks the next."

"The Massachusetts state lottery is one of the most successful in the history of this country," says State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien. "We put a lot more money to the winners so I think thats what makes it so popular."

O'Brien knows the lottery is such a gold mine that the state can't give it up. The lottery raises more than $800 million a year for cities and towns.

"It pays for schools; it pays for fire, police services....Our success has been we give a lot back to the people," O'Brien says. "As a result, we reap greater benefits....This is a significant source of revenues."

But Jack says that not one more nickel is coming from his pocket. He has joined Gamblers Anonymous and knows he can never play another scratch ticket.

"One is too many and two isn't enough...and that holds true for me," he says. "If I play one,...it's too many for me."

For Candido, it has been a constant struggle to keep life from coming apart at the seams. But with a friend's help, she's cut her $50,000 debt in half and received a small inheritance from her dad.

As of last year, she was still scratching.

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