Tuesday’s Mega Millions jackpot will be worth $226 million, and Powerball will be worth $100 million on Wednesday. If those paydays stirred your imagination, you probably already know where you will go to buy your tickets.
But is there such a thing as a “lucky store?”
If one exists, you can find it a couple blocks away from the biggest rice producer in the world. But unlike Riceland, the cash crop at the Valero One Stop is lottery tickets.
“We do sell quite a bit of winning tickets,” shift leader Julie Suchan said. “This morning, we’ve had a $200 winner off of a $2 ticket, and a lady came in with a $3 Powerball and won $25 off of it.”
The One Stop has earned its reputation as the place to go if you want to strike it rich. A Texas man bought a Mega Millions ticket there in April 2017 and won $177 million, the biggest prize in the 10-year history of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. That is not the only life-changing ticket to come from the One Stop, so people travel a long way in search of their own huge payday.
“I have customers from Almyra, from Dewitt,” Suchan mentioned. “You know, we have people even from St. Charles.”
The One Stop is one of a handful of “lucky stores” around Arkansas known for delivering big prizes.
“People want to believe, you know, ‘oh, there’s a lucky store,’ or there’s a lucky town,” Donna Bragg, Advertising and Marketing Director for the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, said. “The truth is: more people buy tickets in more heavily-populated areas, and that’s where more people win tickets, because more people are buying them.”
The numbers bear that out. According to ASL data from September 2009 through June 2019, more tickets worth $100,000 were sold in Little Rock (56) than any other city in the state. North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Conway, Jonesboro, Hot Springs—all highly-populated and well-traveled—are next on the list.
But despite what math says should happen, the odds of finding a big winner are much higher in some cities than others. With a bigger sample size, the per capita rate of winning tickets is similar in most of Arkansas’s large cities. But Stuttgart produces at least three times as many big winners per capita as all of them.
“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, in a way,” Bragg explained, “because more people buy tickets from what they think are lucky stores and so more people win. And they think, ‘oh, they’re lucky,’ so they keep going. And, you know, it makes sense, but it’s all surrounded by, sort of, myth.”
Nine people have won prizes of at least $100,000 in Stuttgart, more than much bigger cities such as Benton, Bentonville, Bryant, Rogers, Russellville, and Searcy.
Bragg believes that when a small-town store sells a large prize, it generates lots of excitement in that community, which drives up sales. Suchan said that played out in 2017. “You know, a lot of people came in,” she recalled, “and were saying, ‘oh, you’re the lucky store, you know? This is where the big winner was at, so let me have one of your tickets, also.”
Bragg assured that scratch-off tickets are distributed randomly and that the nature of games like Powerball and mega millions makes it impossible for one store to have greater odds than another. But that does not stop players from holding onto superstitions.
“We’ve had players talk about: they’ve got a system,” Bragg mentioned. “They always buy the same thing on the same days of the week, or they go to their favorite place.”
“We have one guy,” Suchan stated, “and when he looks at the ticket, if it has the white line at the bottom, he’ll say it’s lucky or it’s not. Or, we have one guy, he’ll hold the ticket up and drop it, and if it flops over, then it’s got money on it for him.
“We even have customers, when they come in, I already know what they want. They come in and say, ‘I want my 40.’ He wants $10 worth of Powerball, $10 of Mega Millions, $10 of Lucky for Life, and $10 of Natural States.”
The trick that actually works to help players find big winning tickets is a combination of dedication and math skills.
“Quite often, in real-time, we update our website under every particular game,” Bragg explained, “to tell you how many top prize winners are out, how many second-tier or lower-tier prize winners are out. So, real savvy players will check the website before they decide what tickets they want to buy, because they can see, ‘oh, well, that ticket still has three million-dollar winners out there, so I’m gonna try to go find that ticket.”
When they find it, it will probably be at a store with a sign like the one under the cash registers at the One Stop in Stuttgart, announcing itself as the sale location of the $177 million prize. It also has big displays of scratch-offs and signs telling customers that they can play lottery games there.
“The lucky stores, the ones that players think are lucky and so they go there more often—a good example: Y&E Super Stop, like, in Bryant—they’re really good at selling lottery tickets,” Bragg claimed. “They display all the tickets, you know, they put up pictures of their winners, and they really make a focus to ask everybody at every interaction, ‘oh, do you want a lottery ticket instead of your change?’ So, I don’t know if it’s luck or if it’s just good business.”
On average, nearly 70 Arkansans a year claim a $100,000 prize, with 7 each year winning $1 million or more.
Bragg said she is happy to talk about all of those people whose lives have been changed because of the numbers that showed up on their tickets.
“What keeps players motivated to play [the] lottery is, number one: the jackpot number,” she explained. “Many people are interested in what the jackpot number is. And number two is win belief. They’ve had a winning experience, they know that you can win, and they believe you can win, so they keep playing. They see evidence of winners all over the place, they hear about it all the time. So, win belief and the jackpot numbers are pretty important to our players.”
As jackpots for games like Powerball and Mega Millions grow larger, more people will play. Hopefully, they will win, but Bragg said the lottery has created unseen winners all over the state.
“Thanks to the players out there buying tickets, we’ve been able to provide more than 540,000 scholarships across the state of Arkansas,” she stated. “If you go to a graduation any time—a high school graduation—you hear Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. So many kids are getting these scholarships, and it’s helping to change lives, and it’s certainly having an impact on education in this state.”