by Gwen Moritz
Posted 9/9/2013 12:00 am
Updated 12 months ago
(This article contains a correction. See end for details.)
G&B Liquor Store in Stuttgart maintained its unlikely crown as the top-selling lottery ticket retailer in the state during the fiscal year that ended June 30, Arkansas Scholarship Lottery data shows.
The tiny store doesn’t sell gasoline or much of anything besides package alcohol, yet it sold very nearly $2 million worth of lottery tickets last year — a figure that is considerably higher than the revenue from liquor sales.
Becoming a lottery retailer, as he did when the lottery launched four years ago this month, “definitely doubled my business,” said owner Paul Le, a Vietnamese immigrant who settled in Stuttgart in 1978 and has owned the liquor store for almost 11 years.
Lottery sales, Le said, brought in new customers — and not just for lottery tickets.
“A lot of people never did come in here before we had the lottery, and then when they come in they see the prices on the liquor and say, ‘Hey, you have a good price,’” Le said.
Selling that volume of lottery tickets generated commissions above $100,000 a year for G&B, which Le owns with his wife, Lien Le.
(Get the list: Click here to see the top lottery retailers.)
Retailers earn a commission of 5 percent on all sales and then a 1 percent commission for cashing winning tickets worth $500 or less. (Larger prizes must be claimed at one of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery’s prize claim centers.)
Cashing those winning tickets is also fun for Le, who deserves an honorary Ph.D. in consumer psychology.
“When people hit $200 or $500, they are so happy — and you can tell that they [then] buy a lot more than they win,” he said.
As has been widely reported, lottery ticket sales slumped in fiscal 2013, down about 7 percent to $440 million statewide. And while Le’s lottery sales were a bit better in the most recent fiscal year ($1.99 million vs. $1.84 million in fiscal 2012), neither year matched the high-water mark of $2.15 million his store set in fiscal 2011, the first full year of the lottery.
Le understands why: The new has worn off.
“The lottery has been slower than two years ago,” he said. “Some people wanted to support the scholarship, but they didn’t win anything, so they’re buying less. But we’re still able to do all right.”
Not all lottery retailers have had such a positive, or profitable, experience. The lottery currently has almost 1,900 active retail locations and new ones are being added regularly — 68 new ones in fiscal 2013. But in the same period, about 160 retailers dropped out, according to data provided by the lottery’s chief legal counsel, Jean Block.
“I can tell you exactly why we quit,” said Charlie Verhegghe, owner of C&K Family Market & Garage in St. Joe in Searcy County. “We moved about $20,000 worth of tickets, and by the time we paid our bonding, we made about $400, so it just wasn’t feasible.”
Verhegghe bought the store in 2011 and despite personal misgivings about the lottery, he decided to add lottery tickets to the merchandise mix just to help generate revenue for his new business. The few bucks he cleared definitely weren’t worth listening to the complaints of customers who had moral objections to gambling — objections that Verhegghe said he actually shared.
“It wasn’t worth it to us. We’re closed on Sunday, and we go to church on Sunday, and I’ve got a problem with gambling,” he said. So after his one-year agreement with the lottery expired last August, he didn’t re-up.
G&B Liquor Store is also closed on Sunday, and Paul Le said he too heard complaints about the lottery from his customers. But their complaints were very different from those Verhegghe heard at C&K Family Market in St. Joe.
Le said his customers don’t like recent changes in the Play It Again game. And, he said, they didn’t like reading in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that $750,000 in unclaimed prizes were being transferred to the scholarship fund.
Le said he and his customers would rather see most of the unclaimed money put back in the pot for ticket-buyers to win. But when customers complain, Le has an answer.
“I calm them down. I tell them that when they come to G&B, they cannot lose. Because the money that they don’t win will help a kid out. So I calm them down, and most of them are really, really, really nice.”
(Correction, Sept. 9, 2013: The original version of this article incorrectly characterized G&B Liquor Store's revenue from liquor, which is actually lower than from lottery ticket sales.)