They call La Tienda the home of the “Utah Lottery,” but the convenience store is in Idaho, in the border town of Franklin.
And as Powerball’s jackpot swells to a record $425 million, Utah residents hoping to strike it rich are fleeing their state’s lottery ban for this ticket-selling store in droves.
“This weekend we had four registers running, and they were going 15 or 20 [people] deep,” said La Tienda owner K.C. Spackman, who guesses that 90% of his customers are from Utah and who sold a winning $1-million ticket to a Utah mother and daughter last year.
“I had one guy come in and buy $5,000 in Powerball tickets for himself.” The customer was dressed like a rail worker, said Spackman, a regular guy who just “wanted the dream, man, wanted the money.”
Ticket buyers all over the U.S. are hoping to get in on Powerball’s big jackpot, which has been helped in part by a recent price increase to $2 that, by intent, promises to yield bigger and bigger payouts to winners. The biggest winners of all, though, are the state lotteries that implement Powerball, dozens of which saw record years of sales.
Yet not every state is in on the gold mine of lottery sales, which are designed to take in more money from buyers than it pays out. You can’t buy Powerball tickets in Alabama, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Big dreamers in these states must cross state borders in search of a little luck.
The Circle K on 4th Street in Columbus, Ga., sits about 1,500 feet from the Chattahoochee River, which means it’s 1,500 feet away from lottery-less Alabama. On Monday, there were lines of ticket buyers, a cashier told the Los Angeles Times.
“That’s where mostly the people come from, Alabama,” said Tanyika Shorter. “They’ve been buying a lot. They’re $2 a ticket, so they’ve been playing $60 worth, $80 worth.... Really, no one really plays Powerball that much, but being the fact that it’s a big jackpot, they’ve been buying.”
“This is the most that I’ve sold Powerball before,” said Shorter, who’s been a cashier for five years.
A cashier at the Shell Gas Station on East Holmes Road in Memphis, Tenn., about a quarter-mile from Mississippi, barely had time to talk, except to say that he’d seen a lot of cross-border Powerball buyers, with the biggest sale weighing in at $200.
In the Internet age, it’s still illegal to buy tickets across state borders online, so barring a change in law, you can expect the border runs to continue up to Powerball’s next drawing Wednesday. Lottery border-running is such a pervasive phenomenon that academics study it.
La Tienda’s Spackman expects to see a lot more of it Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We’ve been doing this for 15 years here, and every time that jackpot goes over $300 million, it kind of explodes,” he said, with the biggest run coming for March’s record $656-million Mega Millions jackpot, which drew Utah residents over the border in swarms.
Spackman said, “I’m the home of the Utah Lottery, man. That’s why I’m here.”