RIP Jim Hosker who always hit the jackpot with People

in People
BY STEVE KRAUSE  May 21, 2020

Jim Hosker could read people. And because he could read people, he became successful in everything he did.

There was Hosker the “polling guru,” as Lynn attorney Thomas C. Demakis recalled.

There was Hosker the state lottery guru, as two of his successors as executive directors of the Massachusetts Lottery — Mark Cavanagh and Beth Bresnahan, who both grew up in Lynn — said.

And there was Hosker the wise veteran of both Boston and Massachusetts politics, as George Regan, who was the late Boston Mayor Kevin H. White’s press secretary, recalled.

“He understood people,” said Demakis, who considered Hosker a lifelong mentor. “He knew what games people would want to play, and knew how to structure jackpots so people would want to play. He could size people up. He loved people.”

Perhaps so. But most who knew him agree that you had to get past a seemingly gruff exterior before you won his confidence — and his friendship.

“He was very intimidating in the beginning,” said Regan. “But once I got to know him, he became one of my best friends.

“But he didn’t suffer fools gladly,” Regan said. “He was a wise man. He started from nothing and went right to the top.”

Hosker, formerly of Nahant, became a victim of the coronavirus earlier this week, just short of his 89th birthday.

He was born in 1931, a child of the Depression, and never got beyond high school, “which makes his later accomplishments all that much more remarkable,” Demakis said.

For a time,  he delivered oil to homes and then became a part-time Nahant police officer before he got a job in the office of state treasurer Robert Crane. That was the start of a lifelong friendship. And at the time, White was the Massachusetts Secretary of State and soon enough, the three — Hosker, Crane and White — became fast friends, Demakis said.

“Jim had a nice way about him,” Demakis recalled after going to work as a summer intern in Crane’s office while in college “He was outwardly gruff. In those days, he always went around with an unlit cigar in his mouth.

“One day he comes to work station, cigar in mouth, and he says ‘you’re a college kid, right? Do you know anything about public opinion polls?’”

As it turned out, Crane and White had decided Hosker was going to be White’s pollster when he ran for mayor of Boston in 1967.

“There were 10 people running in the primary,” Demakis said. “We predicted all 10 in order. It ended up being White vs. Louise Day Hicks, and the campaign drew national attention. We ended up being off in our predictions by one-tenth of one percent.”

After that, Demakis said, “he became a polling guru.”

Hosker’s second career began as the second executive director of the Massachusetts State Lottery. Bresnahan said “he left a lasting legacy in the industry.

“There aren’t many people in this industry who weren’t guided at one time or another by Jim Hosker’s brilliance,” said Bresnahan, who is now the director of the Washington D.C. lottery.

“I like to say Jim was the Tom Brady of lottery directors,” said Demakis. “Once he became Massachusetts lottery director, the state had more sales per capita of any lottery in the country.”

Upon the election of Joseph Malone, a Republican, as state treasurer, “Jim saw the handwriting on the wall, and figured Joe would want his own guy in there.”

So,  Hosker took a similar job in Kentucky, “and that became the fastest growing lottery in the country,” Demakis said. “A few years after that, Texas decided to start a lottery and recruited Jim to be the first director. He made Texas the biggest lottery in the country.”

Bresnahan says that even now, in her office, there are several people in key positions who learned the business from Hosker.

“He helped the transition (in Massachusetts) from what was a street game,” said Mark Cavanagh, another of Hosker’s successors in the state. “He had to get the trust of the people that the numbers game could be administered by the lottery. It was quite an accomplishment.”

One of Hosker’s greatest attributes, Cavanagh said, was his ability to connect with people.

“When you were talking with Jim, you were his singular focus,” he said. “He was probably along the lines of a great coach. He was very direct. He’d tell you what you needed to do.”