Despite a stagnant economy money continues to pour into state sponsored lotteries. Americans spent $65 billion in 2012 on lottery tickets, which is more than they spent on movies, books and porn combined. Aggressive media coverage usually highlights the winners and annual revenues earmarked for education and other community programs. I focus on other archetypal stories not usually part of this hyperbole.
I photograph lottery stories where a broad range of tangible effects are in evidence because I believe the places and people who occupy the supply and demand part of this ubiquitous economic chain deserve greater attention.
Most stories begin at small local family-owned convenience stores where the lottery is a pretext for other transactions. I focus on small shops where owners and customers share similar economic circumstances. Owners are a diverse group. Some are new immigrants but others have overseen their shop for fifty years or are third generation owners carrying on a family tradition. They work long hours seven days each week and their contribution to community coffers is often overlooked.
After a shop sells a winning $1,000,000 scratch ticket it becomes known as lucky and the resulting happiness contagion creates brisk sales we all benefit from whether you play the lottery or not. Owners receive a 1% bonus commission up to a maximum amount determined differently by each state. I photograph winning stores during the fleeting moments of twilight to evoke the tenuous feelings of hope and desire that accompanies the purchase of every ticket.
Azores Discount Tobacco located in a one-family house in Fall River, MA. They sold a winning $1,000,000 scratch ticket in 2011 and the owner received a $10,000 bonus commission.
Amar Ramadan, proprietor of Neighborhood Market located in Somerville, MA. He sold a winning $1,000,000 scratch ticket in 2002 and used the $10,000 bonus commission to put a down payment on a house nearby where he still lives with his wife and two daughters.
Peter with his youngest son, is the proprietor of S&R Market located in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn, NY. He makes origami sculptures using the discarded lottery tickets his customers leave behind.
Cassie’s Corner Store, a family-run business in Canton, MA sold a winning $1,000,000 scratch ticket and received a $10,000 bonus commission.
- Rakesh and Ashok are brother-in-laws who run Levittown News and Tobacco in Fairless Hills PA. They received a $100,000 bonus commission after selling a winning $50 million Powerball ticket.
Located in Norwood, MA, they sold a winning $1,000,000 scratch ticket in 2009 and received a $10,000 bonus commission.
Lottery advertising is paid for through ticket revenues. I photographed this billboard in Detroit, MI, August 2013.
Bonser’s is a local marketplace located in the small town of Custer, MI (pop. 234). They sold a winning $13.3 million classic lotto 47 jackpot ticket and the store received the maximum bonus commission, which in Michigan is $5,000.
On New Years Eve in 2008, a clerk at this Harlem NY store won $10,000 per week for life on a scratch ticket. Several years later another clerk was accused of stealing tickets and the owner banned lottery tickets from his store.
Tony is a ticket hunter. He collects discarded tickets from the trash of neighborhood stores looking for winner that were inadvertently thrown away. “Some weeks I’ve made as much as $250.”
Located in Taunton, MA, they sold a winning $1,000,000 scratch ticket and the owner received a $10,000 bonus commission.
Considered a very lucky store by local players, 350 Food Mart in Somerville, MA has sold three winning $1,000,000 scratch tickets in the past ten years.
Elizabeth is a former scratch ticket addict who used to spend as much as $100 each week on tickets: “I was convinced it would solve all my problems.”
Fast Freddie’s located in Wakefield, MA sold the first winning $10,000,000 scratch ticket, which in 2009 was the largest payout for a scratch ticket in the nation. The store received a $50,000 bonus commission.
Millions of dollars in winning tickets go unclaimed every year. This store in Rye, NY sold a winning $1 million powerball ticket in 2012 but no one came forward to claim the winnings: $662,000 after taxes. The owner posted handwritten signs on the doors to his store urging customers to check their tickets but after a year, the ticket officially expired on August 26, 2013.
Located in Hull, MA, this family-run marketplace sold a winning $1,000,000 scratch ticket and received a $10,000 bonus commission.
In March 2012, the jackpot for MegaMillions reached a record $640 million. One of the three winning tickets was sold in this store located in the town of Red Bud, Illinois (pop. 3683). FKG Oil, a corporation that owns 73 other stores received the maximum bonus commission, which in Illinois is $500,000. In an unusual gesture they gifted $50,000 (or 1%) to the 7 workers at the store.
Denise, the manager at Motomart was gifted a small slice of a large $500,000 bonus commission her corporate bosses received after the store sold a winning Mega Millions ticket worth $219 million dollars in March 2012. With her $25,000 windfall she was able to purchase a bassoon for her husband, a retired member of the Air Force band. “We tried to get a bank loan several years ago but were turned down; I’m so happy to have the chance to do this now.”
Darla, a regular player sold the winning MegaMillions ticket in March 2012 at Motomart. “I live pretty simple and don’t need very much.” As Assistant manager she received a bonus of $12,500 When the 7 clerks found out they had to split their $12,500 bonus, 3 of them quit in protest. “Money changes people.”
Frank and Rafaella DiFonzo own and operate Bill’s Food Shop, the oldest family-run convenience store in Somerville, MA. Frank points to a photograph of his father who helped him buy the shop 54 years ago. They raised three children in the apartment located upstairs. They have never sold a big winning ticket despite a loyal neighborhood clientele.
Located in Lowell, MA, they sold two wining $1,000,000 scratch tickets in the last 5 years and are considered a very lucky store by neighborhood players.
The owner is the third generation of his family to work this small shop located in Randolph, MA. He sold a winning $1,000,000 scratch ticket in 2010 and received a $10,000 bonus commission. Eight years earlier he sold a winning $4,000,000 scratch ticket and received a $40,000 bonus. His customers consider Minihan’s a lucky store.
Inez and Antonio, proprietors of Cross Street Market in Somerville, MA have been in business for 15 years and have never sold a big winner.
Harry Patel with his family inside Jay’s located in Lowell, MA. He sold two winning $1,000,000 scratch tickets in the last five years and the customers in the surrounding neighborhood consider his store very lucky.