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Lottery hot spot revealed

August 16, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

The Interstate 70 Sunoco Food Market on Sharpsburg Pike looks like many conveniences stores with gasoline pumps out front and drinks and food for sale inside.

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It's also a hot spot for Maryland lottery games, especially Keno.

In the last fiscal year, The Sunoco Food Market was the biggest Keno retailer in the county with $376,000 in sales.

Almost $63 million, or $108 per person, was spent on lotteries in the Tri-State area in the last fiscal year, lottery officials said.

In Washington County, $15.5 million was spent on lotteries from July 1, 1998, through June 30, 1999, according to the Maryland Lottery.

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A third of that was spent on Keno, a game that allows players to bet on numbers drawn every 5 minutes.

Accessibility and service are what draws people to play Keno at the Sunoco station, said Manager Gina Mozingo.

Keno players in bars or restaurants might have to wait to get a ticket until the waiter or waitress is available, but at the Sunoco they can just go up to the counter, Mozingo said.

"Our customers are in and out. They don't have to wait for minutes or hours to get a ticket," Mozingo said.

Michael Hensley, 51, of Martinsburg, W.Va., agreed.

Hensley is a regular in the back of the convenience store, where seating is available for Keno players who want to watch the numbers on a monitor.

"It gives me an opportunity to put a couple of dollars in my pocket," said Hensley, who stops at the Sunoco on the way to his shift at the Maryland Correctional Training Center.

Hensley has walked out of the Sunoco with $300 twice thanks to his lucky numbers and Keno.

Other days, like Monday, he isn't as lucky.

"Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. Sometimes you don't go in the woods," Hensley said.

Keno doesn't make retailers a lot of money so many places don't cater to the players the way the Sunoco does, Mozingo said.

Where a bar or restaurant makes most of its money selling food and drinks, the gas station is used to "nickel, dime and pennying it," Mozingo said.

Keno retailers make 3 cents on the dollar, much the way the gas station business does, she said.

Overall, lottery spending decreased in Washington County last year. Lottery figures include instant scratch-off games and online games like Pick 3 and Pick 4.

Lottery sales were up in all three Eastern Panhandle counties in West Virginia thanks to the all-time record $295.7 million Powerball jackpot on July 29, 1998.

Thirteen Ohio machine shop workers won that lottery, taking the $161.5 million lump-sum payment option.

For the record July jackpot alone, $1.64 million worth of tickets was sold in the Panhandle, according to the West Virginia Lottery. That was a 666 percent increase from the average Powerball drawing in Morgan County.

"We had huge, huge numbers of players coming across the borders," said West Virginia Lottery spokeswoman Nancy Bulla.

Maryland Lottery spokeswoman Gail Pelovitz said she wasn't sure if lottery sales dipped last year in Washington and Frederick counties because of the record Powerball jackpot. West Virginia is the only state in the Tri-State area that offers Powerball.

Pelovitz said she thought sales would have remained steady because The Big Game jackpots keep getting bigger.

Lottery sales were lowest in Fulton County, Pa., although the county saw sales climb from $830,643 to $905,438 last year.

Typically, roughly half of the money spent on lottery games goes back to the players, according to the Maryland Lottery. During fiscal 1998, 53 percent of sales was returned to players in winnings.

Jefferson County had the highest amount spent on lotteries per person in the Tri-State area, with $148 per person.

Video lottery sales are not included in the general lottery sales figures.

While Jefferson County had $6.1 million in general lottery sales, including instant and online games, Charles Town Races had more than $46.2 million in video lottery sales last fiscal year, Bulla said.

Last year, Jefferson County received $912,064 from Charles Town Races' video lottery profit, Bulla said.

The racetrack, which has 935 video lottery terminals, wants to add 500 terminals. A public hearing on the request is scheduled for Sept. 29, Bulla said.

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