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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    Lottery, credit unions partnering to provide lottery winners with free financial advice

    Lottery officials have long acknowledged their responsibility to help problem gamblers who lose large sums.

    But what about big winners, those who suddenly find themselves in possession of a winning ticket entitling them to an infusion of cash they may have no way of knowing how to handle? How can they make the most of their windfall? What pitfalls should they avoid?

    The Connecticut Lottery Corp. and Credit Unions Building Financial Independence, or CUBFI, the charitable arm of the Credit Union League of Connecticut, are teaming up to provide answers to such questions.

    At a press conference Monday morning in Hartford, they announced they’re collaborating on “Wise Winnings,” a first-of-its-kind financial literacy and education campaign offering free financial advice to Connecticut Lottery winners of cash prizes of $600 or more.

    Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz joined Connecticut Lottery and Credit Union League officials at the press conference at the Franklin Trust Federal Credit Union.

    “When I became chairman (of the Connecticut Lottery’s board of directors) in 2020, I was looking to strengthen our responsible gaming platform,” Rob Simmelkjaer said last week in a phone interview with The Day. “We already were addressing problem gambling. This is an effort, sort of on the flip side, to say to lottery winners, ‘Congratulations, you’ve won money in the lottery, now here’s what you need to do.”

    Simmelkjaer said he’d read too many accounts of people who’d won a large sum in a lottery game only to lose it and wind up broke years later.

    “This was something we had to try to do something about,” he said. “How do we get players to make better decisions ― in a state of fewer than 4 million people that paid out over $900 million in lottery prizes last year? I said, ‘Let’s find some experts we can partner with, some people with expertise we don’t have.’ ”

    As a nonprofit foundation attached to the trade association for Connecticut credit unions, CUBFI was the partner Simmelkjaer envisioned.

    “It seemed like a natural fit for us,” said Bruce Adams, president and chief executive officer of the Credit Union League of Connecticut. “Advocacy is what we do. We knew we could help people win responsibly. We’re not going to provide them with a concrete plan for the rest of their life. But we can give them information and advice like, ‘Pay down your debts before you use your winnings to buy a fancy new car.’ ”

    “We can interrupt the process, get people to stop and think,” he said.

    The program is available to lottery players who win at the $600-and-above level, the point at which winners must visit one of the lottery’s “high-tier” centers to present their winning ticket and receive a check for their winnings. Smaller amounts can be collected at any retail outlet where lottery tickets are sold. At the high-tier centers, winners will receive an informational brochure with their check and provided an opportunity to connect with a trained credit union financial counselor.

    The Connecticut Lottery and CUBFI have established WiseWinnings.com, a program website that was to be activated Monday.

    In preparing the program materials, Simmelkjaer said officials sought to be realistic.

    “We’re asking people, ‘Have you thought about this, have you thought about that?’ We know people will want to treat themselves to something. We’re trying to not be preachy,” he said.

    But at the same time, he said, many who play the lottery have had little experience with established financial institutions and may be vulnerable to “more predatory options.”

    “What we see a lot is people will run to a check-casher and buy everything they’ve ever wanted before they realize 40% or 50% or 60% of the money is gone,” Adams said. “When people get up in the $10,000 or $50,000 or $500,000 range, that’s when they get really impulsive. It doesn’t happen as much at the $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 level.”

    “The point is to get the most value out of your money,” he said.

    Adams said some lottery players choose not to have a relationship with a bank while others may not be able to have one. While he said no areas in the state fit the federal definition of a “banking desert,” Connecticut does have areas in which it’s difficult to access financial advice.

    Credit unions, however, are accessible to virtually everyone, he said, with roughly a million Connecticut residents having a relationship with one.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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