So you’re standing at the cash register of your local convenience store, trying to pay for a doughnut and possibly a copy of this newspaper, you’re in a hurry, and what happens? You get stuck behind a citizen buying lottery tickets — some down-on-his-luck-looking character who’s trying to decide between playing his numbers straight or boxed, maybe with a couple of Pick 10s on the side, a few Lotto or Powerball tickets, and of course some scratch-offs, like Set-For-Life’s, possibly, at $10 a pop, or Make-Me-Rich’s — Hey, you never know — and meanwhile, you’re shifting your weight from one foot to the other, itching to get out of there and get to work.
Why does your convenience store countenance this inconvenience?
Because it likes the money, obviously. The store keeps 6 cents of every dollar’s worth of tickets it sells, and those cents add up.
The Stewart’s shop on Sand Creek Road in Colonie made $86,322 on ticket sales last year, according to data provided to me by the state Lottery Division.
The Qik Pik/Al-Yousaf establishment on Guilderland Avenue in Rotterdam made $68,044. The Price Chopper on New Loudon Road in Latham made $63,983. The Hannaford on Wolf Road in Colonie made $71,506.
Finnigan’s Convenience on Quail Street in Albany made $165,623, which was the most of any outlet in the eastern region of New York between Westchester County and the Canadian border.
The 16,000-plus retail outlets statewide made a total of $875 million last year, an average of about $54,000 each. And all that for a minimum of counter space and a minimum of staff time. It’s almost like free money.
I wasn’t able to find out how much Stewart’s makes in total from its 318 shops in New York state, but it has to be a measurable piece of its $50 million annual profits.
I asked Tom Mailey, spokesman for the company, if they get any complaints about the inconvenience to other customers, and he said, “It does come up from time to time.” When customers get backed up, he said, “We try to work off whatever register is available to minimize the inconvenience … It’s a constant effort on our part.”
He said the company has never attempted to analyze how much staff time is taken by lottery sales, which would be hard to do, since all employees do everything, and often a customer who is paying for coffee or a newspaper is also buying lottery tickets.
Anyway, you can see how state-sponsored gambling has become embedded in our economy. Not only is our state government hooked on the $3 billion a year that lottery and casino gambling generates, and not only are individual customers hooked, your neighborhood grocery store and convenience store are also hooked.
It becomes hard to sort out who is pathological and who isn’t, though it’s pretty clear that the Catholic priest in Illinois who pleaded guilty last week to stealing $300,000 from his parish to support his casino habit fit the definition.
I’ll have more to say later about the economic benefits of gambling as opposed to the costs, such matters as embezzlement and theft being among the more common costs.
Meanwhile, perhaps you noticed the familiar Lottery dodge perpetrated in Long Island last week, with the announcement that 20 Costco employees had won a Powerball jackpot of $201.9 million — said jackpot actually being $106 million, even without counting the deduction of taxes, if you bothered to read far enough down in the press release or the AP story based on it.
How was this money symbolically presented to the winners? In 20 oversized symbolic checks, for the benefit of cameras, each check for the phony-baloney $210.9 million!
After taxes, the actual prize was $70 million, to be divided 20 ways, meaning $3.5 million for each winner.