Store owners along state line hope Alabamians bring greater success to Tennessee lottery
Convenience store owners operating in Tennessee near the Alabama state line cashed in for decades on Colbert and Lauderdale residents who had nowhere else to turn to quench their thirst for an alcoholic beverage.
A week from today, convenience store owners along the Alabama-Tennessee state line will try to again cash in on Alabamians' thirst.
This time, that thirst has nothing to do with alcoholic beverages, since most parts of the Shoals have legalized alcohol sales.
Instead, this thirst involves playing the lottery.
If early interest is a true indicator, the attraction from Alabama residents will be heavy. And business owners are busy trying to find a way to maximize their potential revenue from Alabamians.
This past autumn, a new sign appeared in front of the Stateline Market on U.S. 43, just north of the state line. The wording -- "Lottery Coming Soon'' -- stirred a lot of talk.
"We had people coming in here wanting to know when,'' said Rick Taylor, manager of the store in St. Joseph, Tenn., that is within feet of the state line.
The Stateline Market was one of the first stores
to apply for a license to sell lottery tickets. The store was also the first in Lawrence County to have the lottery machine installed.
Since last week's announcement of the lottery's opening, Taylor has changed the sign.
It now reads: "Lottery Coming Jan. 20.''
"It seems to be drawing a lot of excitement for our customers,'' Taylor said of the lottery machine.
He quickly acknowledged that many of the questions and excitement have come from neighboring Alabama residents.
Chad Wallace, a cashier in the store, said he has fielded numerous questions about the lottery.
"A lot of our customers are from Alabama, and they're all wanting to know about it,'' he said.
Wallace said people from as far away as Huntsville and Franklin County have inquired about lottery tickets.
John Frank Martin, owner of Berry's Package Store in Cypress Inn, is one of many business owners who have applied to have a lottery machine in his business.
"My application has been gone about seven weeks, and we're hoping to get approved soon,'' Martin said.
"There are people coming in or calling to ask about it just about every day," he said, stopping abruptly to answer a call.
"That's one there,'' he said. "All we can tell them at this point is we've applied, and we're waiting.''
Kym Gerlock, a media official with the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp., said a large advertising campaign to promote the lottery would be launched this week. She said the marketing strategy, however, does not target Alabama residents.
"But we're sure there will be some Alabama residents who will purchase lottery tickets,'' she said.
Frank Quigley, owner of Quigley's Market on Tennessee 13 just south of the Iron City Road in Wayne County, is counting on a business spark from Alabama residents purchasing lottery tickets.
He has applied to sell the tickets but has not gotten approval.
"We have a population of about 13,000 in Wayne County; there are about 70,000 in Florence, and we hope to attract people from there to buy tickets,'' Quigley said. "And we're hoping that when they come in to buy tickets, they will also purchase something else.''
So far, very few of the stores near the state line have had lottery machines installed.
There are only six businesses in Wayne County that have been granted permission to sale lottery tickets, and only two or three of those have had machines installed.
Gerlock said nine machines have been installed in businesses in Lawrence County. She said about 1,800 machines have been installed statewide as of late last week.
"But we're installing machines across the state everyday,'' she said.
Several businesses, such as Berry's and Quigley's, are waiting for their applications to be approved and machines installed, hopefully before Jan. 20.
"We've approved 3,500 applications, but we had more than 4,500 apply,'' Gerlock said.
She said a 20-member team daily reviews applications for approval.
"We want as many businesses as possible to have the machines to boost the education lottery,'' she said, emphasizing that money collected from the lottery goes directly to the state's education system.
Alabama voters rejected an education lottery during Gov. Don Siegelman's administration.
Gerlock said the application review team closely scrutinizes applications. She said pawnshops, cash advance businesses or business that sell only lottery tickets are not eligible.
"Those are the only restrictions. All other businesses are eligible,'' she said.
She said businesses applying to sell lottery tickets are required to pay a $95 application fee.
"On the form, they want to know a traffic count coming into the business, as how many parking spaces in the lot and how many cash registers we have,'' Quigley said. "Plus, we had to set up a separate bank account for the lottery.''
Once the application is completed, Gerlock said background checks are conducted. The process includes a criminal history, credit check and to determine that the applicant is in good standing with the Tennessee Department of Revenue.
The stores that are approved make 6.5 cents on every dollar spent on lottery tickets, Gerlock said.
"It's not a get-rich thing for us," Martin said. "It's another service we're trying to provide our customers.''
County and municipal officials are curious to see the economic impact the lottery will have in their communities.
"I don't really know at this point,'' said Wayne County Mayor Willard Pope. "I don't know if it will create any new jobs, but hopefully, the people who buy the tickets will also buy gas or something to eat and drink from the stores.''
Lawrence County Mayor Amerta Bailey said the lottery "can't hurt'' the county's economic status.
"I'm hoping it will generate a little new money for the county,'' she said. "It was voted in by a vast majority, so that makes me think a lot of people will play it.''
The 4-Mile Market on Tennessee 13, just south of Collinwood near the Natchez Trace intersection, has received approval to sell lottery tickets.
Workers with SCC Inc., of Dickson, Tenn., spent more than two hours Wednesday running cable and putting up a satellite dish during the installation of a lottery machine.
"It's satellite-controlled, like a direct TV hookup,'' said SCC technician Phillip Sharpe.
The lottery machine resembles a fax machine.
Sharpe said his crew has been busy for weeks installing the machines all over the state. In fact, he and another technician were in Giles County earlier in the day before traveling to Collinwood.
Alice Holt, owner of the 4-Mile Market, said she hopes to attract a few new customers with the lottery.
"We look at it as adding another service for our customers,'' she said. "It's a lot to it and there will be more work on our employees. We hope people stopping in for a ticket will buy something else, also.''
The Tennessee Lottery will begin by offering scratchoff tickets, or instant games.
The online games, where numbers are drawn, are scheduled to begin 60 days later.
"We'll have a countertop display and people will come in and tell us which scratchoff ticket they want and how many,'' Taylor said. "Once the ticket is scratched off, the machine will tell us if it's a winner."
The tickets go on sale statewide Jan. 20 at 5 a.m. Taylor said lottery tickets can be sold all seven days from 5 a.m. until 1 a.m. Participants must be 18 years old or older.
With all the excitement being generated by the anticipation of the lottery, will Taylor open at 5 a.m.?
"I don't know; we'll just have to wait and see,'' he said with a big grin.
For Taylor and other business owners near the state line, it appears the countdown to cashing in on the lottery has already begun.