Thousands of dreamers stream into South Florida businesses, plunking down a couple bucks for a chance to be a billionaire. But the people behind the counter punching in the numbers and doling out the tickets don’t exactly feel like winners.
Lottery vendors say there is hardly a payoff for all the extra people pouring into their stores.
“They don’t buy milk but they do buy tickets,” said Leonardo Gonzalez, owner of a small convenience store on Fontainebleau Boulevard in West Miami-Dade. “They come all day. Rich people, poor people — to become millionaires. A guy came in with his suit and tie and spent $130 on the Powerball.”
With the Powerball jackpot at a record $1.5 billion — and likely to grow before Wednesday night’s drawing —ticket sales have leaped in the last few weeks. The growing jackpots have translated into growing ticket sales in Miami-Dade: more than $18 million worth since New Year’s compared with just $1.7 million during same period in January 2015.
Storekeepers do get a little extra for their trouble. Retailers make 5 percent commission off ticket sales and 1 percent for prizes under $600, as well as larger bonuses for selling a jackpot ticket. Regular Powerball tickets cost a customer $2.
Gonzalez sold 3,000 tickets when people rushed to buy before the drawing last Saturday, and even purchased 12 himself. When the jackpots are lower, about 200 to 300 people a day buy tickets at his store, mostly in the evenings after work.
One benefit to being a lottery retailer during this period of mega-jackpots: People now know where his store is. Although he’s not selling his products to the frenzied crowds now, he hopes to get them back as regular customers one day.
Lottery sales are helpful “if you get a lot of people coming in,” he said. “They won’t buy something now but they’ll come back later.”
Fatima Suarez, an employee at El Karmel Supermarket at 2049 W. Fourth Ave. in Hialeah, said that "with luck" she won't need to hire any extra staff to manage the long lines that she expects on Wednesday.
“All the people of the neighborhood come here,” she said.
She sells $200 to $400 in Powerball tickets on most days, and more than $1,000 on the days closest to the draw.
Nondas Pries, the owner of another Hialeah convenience store, has hired an extra employee to prepare for the influx of customers.
By the cashier, a Brazilian tourist helped a young man fill out a lottery card. Within five minutes, three customers had come in asking for tickets.
“My brother yesterday told me to buy a Powerball,” said Glaucia Vilhena, the tourist, who bought a ticket for herself as well. “It’s a big quantity of money. Normally I don’t play this type of game ... just because I’m here today.”
Sometimes, Pries said, Powerball people also purchase a soda, or other products, but in general, the store has not benefited much from the wave of ticket buyers.
“It’s not like the lottery is saving us or doing anything better,” he said.
Sergio Romero, the store manager of a 7-Eleven on Bird Road in Coral Gables, has hired an extra employee for the anticipated rush on Wednesday. The store made $1,700 in Powerball sales on Monday and $8,000 last Saturday.
“I saw the need for it,” he said, explaining that it is the only added expense for the store. “It is worth it. We made $40,000 last year off the lottery” in commission.
On Monday evening, customers trickled into the store, buying tickets every few minutes.
“It’s been a pandemonium here, lines all the way down” the store, said Romero, as customers beside him ordered tickets. One man, a regular ticket buyer, asked for 100.
Meanwhile Manuel Perara, owner of El Ahorro Supermarket on Palm Avenue in Hialeah, has joined the new craze himself.
“I buy one or two tickets. Each time it’s high,” he said of the jackpot. “Because you have the same luck as everyone else. We all want to be billionaires.”
$1,000 Amount of tickets sold at a small Hialeah market on days close to the draw