1 In 195,249,054

December 23, 2011 by staff 

1 In 195,249,0541 In 195,249,054, Plenty of people hope to hit it big in the S.C. Education Lottery. Vissu Reddy of Florence is doing it — and he’s never even bought a ticket. Sold a lot of them, though. Reddy is the owner of Sunhouse Petroleum at the corner of East Howe Springs Road and Pamplico Highway in Florence. His store is a member of the lottery’s Million Dollar Sales Club, having sold $1.2 million in lottery tickets in the most recent fiscal year, good for 18th place in state rankings.

Store owners rake in a 7-percent commission on their sales, with not much overhead, so even if no one else is a lottery winner, Reddy is. The lottery, he said, is the heart of his business.

But it’s not in his heart to play. Reddy said he’s never bought a ticket, even though store regulars are always tempting him to try.

“Most of the time, 75 percent of people lose,” Reddy said with a shrug. “I don’t want to take a chance in that deal. … But, it’s good for my business.”

It’s pretty good for business across town in Quinby where owner Nick Desai’s Sam’s Mart is also a million-dollar site. Sam’s Mart ranked 30th in the state, with $1.1 million in lottery sales.

Reddy attributes his lottery sales success to his store’s location on a busy thoroughfare and a somewhat deserved reputation as a “lucky” lottery site. In the early years of the now 10-year-old S.C. Education Lottery, Sunhouse sold a fair number of winning tickets. In 2007 alone, Reddy’s store sold three $10,000 instant winner tickets in less than 25 days and sold a $50,000 instant ticket.

There haven’t been any big buck winners since then, but regulars and newcomers don’t want to tempt fate, especially not with images of past winners and winning tickets staring at them from the wall. Reddy posted the winners in an effort to inspire more ticket buying.

In quiet Quinby, Desai said the Sam’s Mart lottery success story has more to do with customer service than good fortune.

Desai said he and his staff know what they are doing when it comes to the lottery and keep up with its ever-changing array of games and contests. They’re happy to answer questions, and — this means a lot to winners when it happens — cash big paydays on the spot. Many stores put a $500 limit on on-site payouts, requiring bigger winners to travel to the lottery’s office in Columbia to collect their winnings.

Lottery fraternity

There as a fraternal atmosphere among the lottery players at Sam’s, and that’s important to Kenneth, a who, like several people interviewed for this story, ask that his last name not be published. Most didn’t want friends and family to know they played or how much they played.

Playing the lottery, Kenneth said during a recent early afternoon stop at Sam’s, is all about the atmosphere and convenience. Kenneth typically spends $40 to $50 a week playing the lottery, but said it’s more like a hobby for him. He also uses it to break up the motonony of travel. He spends a lot of hours on the road with his job.

Kenneth said he only plays when all his other expenses have been handled, and said he doesn’t find the game to be addicting.

“It’s not like I can’t ride by the store and not get a ticket,” Kenneth said.

Minutes after Kenneth wandered in to Sam’s, Leon Crump walked into the store on a mission to cash his winning $20 instant ticket. He’s a frequent visitor to Sam’s Mart, but not a frequent lottery player. He said he doesn’t play the lottery too much, maybe once a month.

“When a friend wins say $300, $400 or $500 on a scratch-off then I’ll go and play again,” Crump said.

Crump may not be a frequent player, but does have a strong opinion about lottery policies.

“I do think the prizes should be spread out more,” he said. “Instead of giving $50 million to one person why not give $1 mllion to 50 people?”

Just about every weekday school bus driver Michael Elleby stops at Sam’s Mart between his morning and afternoon routes to get a cup of coffee and chew the fat with Desai. The ritual includes playing the lottery. That means playing it “responsibly,” Desai said.

“I ain’t gonna go overboard and spend more than I can afford,” Elleby said. “I’m always trying to get the big one.”

He’s come close. He missed the Pick 4 by one number a week ago and said, “It’s like dangling a carrot out in front of your eyes and telling you to not bite it.

$10-a-day habit

The cameraderie might not be as intense at Sunhouse, but the lottery players there do mean business.

On a recent afternoon, Thomas “Teach” Belin, a retired teacher, was was seated at a table there, a slew of entry forms for “Pick 3, 4” and his latest numbers to play in front of him.

Belin ascribes to the lucky karma of Sunhouse. He said 95 percent of the time he plays at Sunhouse because it’s the only place he’s ever won.

He was planning to buy 20 tickets for the next drawing. He spends a little something every day, about $10 a day, but never on instant tickets.

“I win something two to three times per month and I have hit the Pick 4 for $5,000,” Belin said. “It’s the anticipation of what could happen and the odds of hiting it big. The odds are against you, but if you’re in the game you got a chance.”

Marion, who asked that his last name not be used because “if my wife knew about it, Lord, she’d kill me,” has had some luck buying exclusively instant tickets. Spotting lottery colleague Belin in the store, he shared the news that he had won $500 a few weeks ago while Belin was on a cruise. The money went toward Christmas presents, Marion said.

Marion, who said he plays two or three times a week, admits “I play more than I should.”

The favored game varies from player to player.

Maurice Scott, another Sunhouse regular, is mostly interested in the big money games like Power Ball or Mega Millions. He doesn’t usually get into those games, however, until the jackpot grows.

“It seems like the people that don’t play much always win,” Scott said. “The odds make me not want to play that much and when I do it’s only a $1.”

Scott has a pretty good grasp of the odds. The lottery’s own figuring puts the odds of winning the top Power Ball prize at 1 in 195,249,054. Mega Millions odds are a bit better: 1 in 175,711,536.

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