Sherry Nelson, owner of Sherry's Unique Boutique, didn't know if a hair salon could sell lottery tickets, but figured it was worth asking.
So Nelson, 39, squeezed into a standing-room-only crowd of women and minority business owners Wednesday to hear new Tennessee Education Lottery chief executive officer Rebecca Paul.
Paul's answer was a resounding yes. It was resounding not so much because of what Nelson does for a living, but what she is - an African-American business owner.
"One of the places where minority businesses - African-American businesses, particularly - are under-represented in every lottery in the nation is as retailers who sell our products," Paul said. "That's an opportunity I'd like to see grow."
Paul, announced as Tennessee's lottery chief on Monday after being hired away from the same job with the Georgia Lottery, spoke to more than 150 minority and women business owners in a forum at the National Civil Rights Museum.
She spoke of a variety of business opportunities - from retail outlets, which will receive a 61/2 percent commission on lottery ticket sales, to advertising and computer systems.
Toward a goal of starting scratch-off ticket sales by Feb. 17, Paul said the lottery would hire 300 people across the state. Some will be in Memphis, the planned site of a district office.
"We'll need office space in Memphis," she said. "We'll need employees in Memphis. We'll need support in Memphis for what I'm sure will be our most profitable district office."
The 2002 referendum on removing a state constitutional ban on a lottery was approved by 67.5 percent of Shelby County voters, compared with 58 percent statewide.
Paul said it was too soon to announce specifics about hiring or accepting bids for projects. Instead, business owners were asked to put contact information on a signup sheet at the meeting. Sign-up also is available online at www.tn lottery.gov.
"If it's minority-owned businesses, if it's women-owned businesses, if it's Hispanic-owned businesses - I think everybody ought to participate in this process," said Marvell Mitchell, a Memphis businessman and member of the state lottery board. "Because it's going to be a major market."
Tennessee lottery spokesman Will Pinkston estimated there could be 3,500 statewide retail lottery outlets in the early stages. He said interest has been shown from 2,500 retailers representing 2,900 outlets.
He estimated about 20 percent of interested retailers are in Memphis.
Most businesses are eligible to sell lottery tickets, with pawn shops and check-chasing businesses being two exceptions. There is an approval process that includes a criminal check, tax check and credit check.
"It's safe to assume the vast majority of the retail outlets are going to be gas stations, convenience stores, grocery stores, and those sorts of establishments," Pinkston said.
But Paul said a top retailer during her days in Florida was a barbershop. And, "One of my largest retailers in Albany, Georgia, was a wedding chapel. They had a sign - get hitched, get rich."
That was good news for Nelson, whose salon is at 1380 Airways.
"I want to try and be a part of it," she said. "A whole lot of (my customers) are asking about it."
Minority retailers are under-represented in every lottery in the nation, said Tennessee lottery CEO Rebecca Paul, who spoke Wednesday at the National Civil Rights Museum.