Local store owners are preparing for the opening of the Mississippi lottery with scratch-off tickets beginning Nov. 25, and it seems businesses are in some ways making a gamble themselves — on ticket sales.

The professed benefit of the lottery is to increase revenue for local stores while funding state projects through associated taxes.

Pigott Oil Co. president Jeremy Holmes said he is looking forward to beginning sales in his Market Max stores.  

“We do it already in Louisiana and it’s been good to us,” Holmes said.

Pigott Oil is still navigating the application process for Mississippi vendors and has completed and filed applications for four Market Max locations to sell scratch-off tickets.

“As soon as it’s approved we’ll participate,” he said.

Holmes sees both benefits and drawbacks to the lottery. He said the lottery itself isn’t a huge source of revenue, but the availability attracts customers into his stores, creating more opportunities for sales.

“It gets customers into the store and gives them a little hope each week,” Holmes said. “Heck, I participate.”

He said his stores in Louisiana sold a few winning tickets but never one of the mega-jackpots that net stores hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He remembers a few occasions where customers walked out of his shops with winnings up to $20,000.

Buffalo Services president and CEO Clifton Van Cleave said one of his stores in Vidalia, La., has sold a jackpot ticket.

“The good thing about us is that we’ve been selling lottery tickets in Louisiana since 1993,” he said. “We have a head start since we’ve already been doing it.”

Van Cleave said 14 of his Mississippi locations, including Chevron, Shell and Texaco stations and local B-Kwik stores are already approved to sell lottery tickets.

“We’ll be in with the first rollout,” he said.

Van Cleave said executive director Philip Chamblee, one of 5 Mississippi Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association board members, helped negotiate a 6% return on lottery tickets compared to the 5% garnered by Louisiana retailers.

“Six cents on the dollar represents a huge opportunity,” Van Cleave said.

Van Cleave said the lottery will help to increase foot traffic in his stores and potentially boost sales.

He said that bringing the lottery to Mississippi would make a big difference in terms of taxes.

“I hope it’s good for Mississippi,” he said. “I guarantee in McComb people go to Kentwood (la.) to buy lottery tickets.”

While offering lottery tickets isn’t a large source of revenue and there is a learning curve to overcome on the part of both the state and shop owner, proprietors hope that they sell a winning ticket for a large prize, as stores get a small cut of major jackpots, which ends up being a significant payout in itself.

Circle B owner Greg Ballew said he has filed applications for his local stores but it isn’t quite clear when he will be able to sell tickets. He is waiting on approval, the installation of lottery point of sale equipment and the availability for state-mandated training. Despite all of those hurdles, he hopes to sell tickets in his stores as soon as early to mid-December.

Ballew said he is looking forward to the lottery and the opportunities that come along with it but also expressed apprehension about a few key components of the system.

One tricky aspect of lottery ticket sales is that the financial reward depends upon the number of daily transactions, Ballew said. If a store is paying more for the right to sell lottery tickets than it makes on those sales then it may be difficult to justify selling the tickets.

He said the state hasn’t provided shop owners with a mechanism to guarantee steady revenue. On top of that, any existing business is eligible to apply for the program, even fast-food establishments and other retailers.

Ballew acknowledged the debate over the merits of a lottery, which was approved in a special legislative session in 2018 as a means to shore up road and bridge funding. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who had been a staunch opponent of the lottery for moral reasons indicated he’d support its creation last year as lawmakers grappled with a way to fund money for the state’s crumbling highway infrastructure.

“Mississippi’s problem is that we try to legislate morality,” Ballew said.

Ballew said the lottery will prevent Mississippians from spending their money on tickets in Louisiana.

For him, the decision to begin lottery ticket sales in his stores is one made out of competition. He said he doesn’t want to lose out on potential sales that would ultimately go to his competitors.

“Competition — that’s the only reason I’m doing it,” Ballew said.

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