You have 1,200 places to play the Nebraska Lottery, but for the past 20 years, you gambled hardest at big stores in big cities.
And you gambled in small stores in smaller towns. And in the 402. And in the 308.
The Nebraska Lottery's list of its all-time top 20 retailers spans much of the state, from South Sioux City to Holdrege. It has a few common threads, such as half a dozen Hy-Vee stores and a pair of Grand Island Skagways. But it also contains a mix of stores big and small, privately owned and corporately operated.
“Why these stores? It's a combination of factors,” Neil Watson of Nebraska Lottery said Tuesday. “Some stores have a very loyal player base. Some stores, it's location, and the amount of traffic they have.”
Lottery officials hit the road this week to honor the top sellers of scratch cards and lotto tickets combined -- the 20 stores that have racked up more than $100 million in total sales since the first scratch ticket was sold Sept. 11, 1993.
At the top of the list: The north Skagway Discount Store in Grand Island. And at the end: Holdrege's Pump & Pantry, on Fourth Street.
“We're No. 20. We're awesome,” said assistant manager Linda Clark.
Her customers seem to split evenly -- half going for the big payouts of the lotto, half chasing instant gratification from scratch cards.
And she credits those loyal customers, and her employees, for making the store a consistent top seller. The trophy it earned on the Nebraska Lottery's 15th anniversary is still on display, and it will be joined by new hardware Thursday morning.
In Lincoln, the three top sellers are all north of O Street: Russ's on North 66th, Roc's Stop and Shop at 56th and Holdrege and Save-Mart at 11th and Cornhusker.
Save-Mart, Lincoln's top seller and the sixth in the state, doesn't push lottery tickets and scratch cards on its customers, manager Mark Hutson said. But it makes the games easy to play -- carrying all Nebraska Lottery new offerings, posting prize information and cashing in winning tickets.
“We're not out asking people if they want them, but we do want to do a good job of selling them to the people who want them.”
His store's sales are supported by a cast of loyal customers: the lotto players who pick the same numbers, week after week; the scratch card players who play over their lunch breaks.
“A lot of them were really good customers. We recognize those people a lot. We even know some by name.”
He has been able to pay some of them back, too. Over the years, his customers have won pickups, a trip to Hawaii and a Harley-Davidson and picked winning tickets worth $100,000.
And he would rather see a regular win than someone who pulls in off the highway.
“It's very rewarding when that happens.”