At Hawthorne’s Bluebird Liquor, they are beating the odds by playing the numbers.
The modest corner store has produced three state lottery jackpot winners of more than a million dollars since the contest began seven years ago. Their combined take was more than $16 million, and other Lotto players at the store have claimed about $4 million. Only one lottery outlet has generated more million-dollar-plus winners: a store in the desert community of Baker where four people have struck it rich.
The Bluebird has raked in $8.8 million in lottery sales since 1985 and has consistently ranked in the top five among the state’s retailers in total sales. But even with its high volume of Lotto sales, statisticians calculate the store should have paid out--at most--just one jackpot winner thus far.
State officials seem unable to rationally explain the Bluebird’s good fortune.
“Winning the lottery is a random occurrence,” said Jana Matal, a spokeswoman for the California State Lottery in Sacramento. “But I’d have to say they are a lucky store, you bet.”
Lotto players who purchase their tickets at the Bluebird, at 13746 Hawthorne Blvd., may not be able to account for the store’s good luck either, but they swear by it, nonetheless.
“I came here because I can win more here than anywhere else,” said Carolyn Mays of Hawthorne, who has won about $250 at the store. “There are lots of other places in L.A. (to buy Lotto tickets), but they don’t win at those places.”
Boris Garber Jr., who drives in from Westchester to buy Lotto tickets at the Bluebird, agrees.
“I have good luck here,” said Garber, who has won a couple of hundred dollars through Lotto. “I win pretty frequently when I come here. I don’t know why, but I do.”
But luck can be a mysterious commodity at the Bluebird, and some of its regular Lotto players weren’t taking any chances that a journalist’s questions could interrupt its magical flow.
“I don’t want to talk to you because you’ll jinx me,” insisted one gentleman, who refused to give his name while playing a scratch-off game recently.
Apparently, it was too late. He didn’t win.
But other players, who have avoided journalists and other bad luck, have walked away with enormous winnings. The store’s largest payout came during the frenzy for a world record jackpot in April, 1991. One man who bought his Lotto ticket at the Bluebird was among 10 winners who split a $118-million jackpot.
Oddly enough, the store’s second-largest winner was the California schools. The state schools landed a $4.5-million windfall in June, 1991, when the person with the winning ticket never claimed the jackpot. The odds of picking the winning numbers in both cases were one in 23 million, say state lottery officials.
According to store owner Frank Kumamoto, the Bluebird’s string of odds-defying payouts was sparked by posting the names and amounts of winners on the store’s walls and ceilings. “This is the luckiest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “People see the winners, and it brings in more people.”
His first winner was a woman named Connie who took home $5,000 in 1985. Since then, the store’s reputation for good fortune has grown, while its available wall and ceiling space has shrunk.
A card, signed by the ticket buyer, is posted for every Lotto winner. There is a story behind every winner, Kumamoto said. He points to a card for a $30,000 winner who left her husband after cashing in her prize. He identifies a card for a $126,000 winner, an unemployed aerospace worker, who won just weeks after losing his home to bank foreclosure. But most of the other names evoke happier tales--of everything from new cars to second honeymoons.
Recently, the store’s mystique has brought in a brisk Lotto business despite a relatively low jackpot of $3 million. When the jackpot swells, however, lines to buy tickets can snake around the small building.
“When we have a really big jackpot, they come from the Valley, Pasadena and Orange County,” Kumamoto said. “I’ve even had telephone calls from San Diego asking for directions to the store.”
Sometimes when the lines for Lotto tickets become too long, Kumamoto, who has earned about $90,000 in Lotto commissions, will hand out free drinks and doughnuts to patrons. Were it not for the commissions, said Kumamoto, a Japanese immigrant who bought the Bluebird 14 years ago, he couldn’t afford to be so generous.
Although he plays Lotto twice a week, Kumamoto has been unable to tap into his store’s vein of good luck. He always chooses the same numbers: his and his wife’s birthdays.
To date, his largest lottery payout has been $99.
Tops in Ticket Sales
California’s top five lottery retailers in the 1991-92 fiscal year:
RETAILER LOCATION TOTAL SALES Nipton Trading Post Nipton $4,313,599 Bluebird Liquor Hawthorne $2,801,095 Wills Fargo Country Store Baker $2,381,187 Hallelujah Junction Hallelujah General Store Junction $1,460,116 Del Amo Fashion Center Torrance $1,408,289
Source: California Lottery