By Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- Some New York stores that sell lottery games appear to be luckier than others.
Forty-seven stores outside New York City and Long Island had five or more winners who cashed in $5,000 or more between 2009 and 2011, a review of lottery records by Gannett's Albany Bureau found.
The luckiest was Memorial Stationery, located in a strip mall in Mount Vernon, Westchester County. It had 16 winners of more than $5,000 between 2009 and 2011, Gannett's review found.
It had one winner hit for four "Win 4" in February 2010 for a total of $200,000. Another "Win 4" player cashed out $125,000 a month later. And its biggest winner was for $88,088 on "Take 5" in 2009.
"Customer luck," said the store's owner, Peter Kenia. "It's a lucky place."
The second most winners outside New York City and Long Island were at the Wegmans supermarket in Chili, just outside Rochester. It had 10 winners since 2009 -- including a $1 million "Win For Life" instant game winner in May 2011 and a $260,659 Lotto winner in 2010.
"We have no insight. It is a very busy store in terms of overall sales, but it's not our busiest store by any means. It's also not our busiest store for lottery sales," said Jo Natale, Wegmans' spokeswoman. "We have no explanation, but we think it's great."
Of course, lottery officials caution that there's no statistical proof that one store gives a better chance of winning than another.
But some stores said customers stick with their routines, and their lucky spots.
"A lot of people come into the store and they are just like, 'This seems to be a lucky place,'" said Becca Ogden, a clerk at Smokes 4 Less in Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County.
The store had a $10 million "Win For Life Spectacular" instant game winner in May 2011; it's a $20 ticket. Later that month, a customer hit a $25,000 "Fat Wallet" instant game, and in November 2011 the store had a $70,000 "Take 5" daily lottery winner.
New York has had a good stretch of major jackpots in recent years: 14 winners of the multi-state Powerball or Mega Millions lotteries since 2009 for a whopping total of $1.6 billion in prize money. Gannett reviewed data from the state Lottery Division that was obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
Since 2009, the largest jackpot in New York was $312 million won in March 2011 by a group of seven state workers in Albany. Two $200 million jackpots were hit in Suffolk County over a six-month span last year.
Over a month span between December 2010 and January 2011, a couple won near $49 million in Saratoga County and then was followed by a $122 million winning couple in Greene County.
Statewide, there were 149 businesses that had more than five winners of more than $5,000 from 2009 through 2011, Gannett's review found. The most were 73 winners at Billy's Food Stores on Staten Island -- but that was almost entirely when one person hit a $3.5 million "Win 4," a daily numbers game. The winner had 70 multiple tickets -- each for $50,000.
"Secret? This is luck. I wish had luck like this," said the store's owner, Rocky Mian.
Statewide, there were 10,659 prizes above $5,000 over the three years, and it stayed fairly consistent: 3,583 in 2009; 3,579 in 2010 and 3,497 in 2011.
New York has more than 17,000 lottery retailers. The lottery vendors receive 6 percent of all sales, and they receive a $10,000 bonus if they have a jackpot winner for Lotto, the in-state lottery game, or Mega Millions and Powerball, the two multi-state games.
Outside New York City and Long Island, Westchester County had the most $5,000 or more winners at 580, followed by 401 in Erie and 292 in Monroe. Rockland had 182 winners, and Dutchess had 131 winners. Broome had 73, Chemung had 47, and Tompkins had 27.
New York's lottery has been growing -- both in sales and prizes. States across the nation, including New York, have looked to increase its lottery to offset growing government costs and declining tax revenue.
"They are just looking for more revenue," said Jonathan Griffin, a policy associate at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
New York led the nation in 2011 for lottery sales at $7 billion, 40 percent more than second place Massachusetts at $4.2 billion, a report Dec. 6 from the U.S. Census Bureau said. New York also led the nation in prizes awarded at $4 billion.
The state Lottery said it has had 12 consecutive years of records sales and earnings. The state has been boosted by the installation of video-lottery terminals at nine racetracks and an expansion of instant lottery games and Quick Draw, a Keno-like game.
New York is also among states considering forms of online gambling, and the state Legislature this year passed the first of two constitutional amendments to legalize up to seven private casinos. The Legislature would have to approve it again and voters would have to approve it at the polls. The earliest public vote would be November 2013.
James Maney, executive director of state Council on Problem Gambling, said the expansion of gambling in New York is troubling. He said the state hasn't boosted funding for prevention and treatment programs.
"Even though we are increasing all these other things, we are not increasing services to help folks," he said.
He pointed to some recent criminal cases involving gambling addiction. Last month, a nun in Orleans County was accused of stealing $128,000 from two churches to gamble at area casinos. She had spent 9 months at an in-patient treatment facility.
"All the research shows that when you have more availability, more opportunity, the prevalence rates (of addiction) go up," Maney said.
For the first six months of fiscal year, revenue at the racetracks surged 50 percent - largely because of the start in October 2011 of VLTs at Aqueduct in Queens, the state's largest gaming hall. Only Yonkers Raceway had a decline in VLT revenue during the period, which was the result of the competition from Aqueduct.
For the 2011-12 fiscal year, which ended March 31, sales and revenue for the state Lottery totaled $8 billion. The profits, nearly $2.9 billion, goes to fund the education system. The state provides about $20 billion a year in education aid.
"New York continues to be North America's largest and most profitable lottery, earning over $45.4 billion in education support statewide since its founding over 45 years ago," said state lottery spokeswoman Christy Calicchia.
Between 2009 and 2011, World Books at Penn Station in Manhattan had the most lottery sales -- more than $28 million. The owner, Patel Jay, said he believes his store -- which has five lottery machines and four vending machines for instant games -- has the highest sales in the country.
"Of course it's a good feeling," he said when asked about his sales.
Outside New York City and Long Island, the Port Chester Mini Mart on Westchester Avenue had the biggest sales over the three years -- nearly $13 million. The store is close to the Connecticut border.
In upstate, the Wegmans on Lyell Avenue in Rochester had the most sales during the three years, a total of nearly $11 million.
Yonkers Raceway had a 39 percent increase in lottery sales between 2009 and 2011, second statewide behind a grocery store in Harlem, Gannett's review found.
Timothy Rooney Jr., the track's general counsel, said lottery sales remain an important part of the business. He said the VLTs, along with improved placement of lottery games, have increased sales.
"We're obviously partners with the lottery in both the VLT side and this side," Rooney said. "It's something we offer in conjunction with the lottery."