From his stool behind the counter at Miller's Produce, Jerry Warren surveys the steady line of noontime lottery players and laments the business's gloomy future.
The players are mostly North Carolinians, lured to the convenience store at the state line by cheap gas and the chance to win big in the S.C. lottery.
Miller's is a popular location. The store has sold $12 million in lottery tickets since the games were launched in 2002. Only two other retailers — both also in York County — brought in more from ticket sales.
But Miller's will lose half of its lottery business, if not more, Warren estimates, if North Carolina makes good on its plans to start a lottery as early as next year.
That'll be bad for the state of South Carolina, too, he says.
S.C. lottery officials estimate North Carolina would take as much as $150 million annually from South Carolina's lottery if it gets in the business.
"They're going to lose so much money to North Carolina," says Warren, a part-time security guard who has been in business with Miller's Produce owner Steve Miller for many years.
"It might not happen immediately, but, ultimately, it will hurt South Carolina a bunch."
It will hurt Fort Mill especially. Three of the state's four top ticket retailers, including Miller's, are located within a few miles of each other between sprawling suburban Fort Mill and the state line.
Those three retailers have racked up more than $37 million in sales since 2002.
In its clean, almost sterile, gas station, Miller's offers a jumble of items for sale — from sweet potatoes to hookahs — but does a brisk business because of the lottery.
If North Carolina starts its own lottery, customers such as Maggie Crickard, a Charlotte-area resident in line at Miller's, would no longer have a reason to stop in.
"I just sweep over the border to get the cheap gas, and I come down here every so often for these," she says of her handful of tickets.
Charlotte resident Arthur Dudley spends about $4 a week on the S.C. lottery. But if North Carolina gets in on the games, "I won't be coming down here," he says.
"North Carolina is the only state that don't got a lottery in the whole eastern United States," he says. "That don't make sense."
Miller's day manager Linda Ewing doesn't share Warren's gloom.
"We've still got the gas station. We still have the South Carolina lottery sales and the produce."
York County retailers are following the news about the N.C. lottery carefully.
They could hang on to some of their business if North Carolina sticks with its plan not to join the consortium of states offering Powerball drawings.
But the anxiety over the N.C. lottery is palpable at businesses in the region.
This part of Fort Mill, near Paramount's Carowinds amusement park, always has relied on Southerners' collective split personality — vacillating between evangelical Christianity and anything-goes independence.
The crop of gas stations and shops is located down the road from the former Heritage USA —an enormously popular religious theme park until its owners, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, quit amid a sex and money scandal.
In the decade following the Bakkers' fall from grace, rows of castle-like video poker parlors sprang up. The region once famous for Praise the Lord ministries became known as "Fort Vegas."
In those days, says Warren, a meaty accountant who now spends his time hanging out at Miller's, anyone with enough cash to buy video poker machines and rent a building could make $1,000 a week from one machine.
A smaller gaming operator like Miller could make more than $1 million a year. The state's most successful operators reportedly made millions in a week, Warren says.
Warren says he probably gambled more than $250,000 over 10 years. He was around so much, Miller finally hired him.
When the state's $3 billion-a-year video poker industry folded in 2000, South Carolina ordered all machines out of the state.
Video poker's end was triggered when the S.C. Supreme Court struck down plans to hold a referendum on video gaming, allowing the state to ban the games.
Business in Fort Vegas dried up.
Eyes glittering with the memory of millions of dollars, Warren considers the decade of video poker to be the golden age for Fort Mill.
People always will want to gamble, he says. The lottery is gambling, after all.
"You can't legislate morals, sex and politics," he said. "And you might throw religion in there, too. You can't mandate that."
The scratch-scratch sound of lottery players scraping the silvery latex coating off of tickets has replaced the ding-ding of the poker machines since the lottery started in 2002. But the money's not the same.
Miller's uses South Carolina's lower gas prices to entice customers from Charlotte, where gas often costs several cents more a gallon.
Other shops along the state line sell little besides lottery tickets. Some of the sparse buildings are cigarette smoke-clouded shacks lined with automated lottery ticket dispensers and tables of people scratching tickets.
If North Carolina gets a lottery, all those places will take a hit. Warren has a solution.
"Bring the poker machines back."