BRISTOL, Va. — You might call Andy Huynh the king of the Bristol lottery.
As the owner of his eponymous downtown quick shop, Andy’s Market, Huynh built his throne on a pile of cash made from lottery sales — his store sold nearly $1 million in tickets in 2015.
Although Huynh has consistently sold the most lottery products in Bristol for the past few years, he said he doesn’t shell out his own money for tickets these days.
“It was always the same thing,” Huynh said — a losing ticket.
Since at least 2014, Andy’s Market has topped the chart of retailers on the Virginia side of Bristol that sell the most lottery tickets, according to a Bristol Herald Courier analysis of data from the Virginia Lottery. In 2015, Andy’s Market sold about $980,000 in lottery products. The retailer that sold the second-highest number of tickets that year — JZ Convenience, near Exit 7 off Interstate 81 — sold just $387,000.
Huynh was shocked when he saw the sales gap between his store and others.
“I had no idea,” he said from a backroom in his market, off Commonwealth Avenue just a few blocks north of State Street and the Tennessee line. Huynh surmises that his store’s unmatched lottery success comes down to two factors: location and loyalty.
While Andy’s Market is the top dog of Bristol lottery retailers, the store seemingly sits in a lottery ticket sweet spot for other lottery vendors.
In the first 10 months of 2016, 18 Bristol, Virginia retailers sold $200,000 or more in lottery tickets. Five of those stores, including Andy’s, are along a half-mile stretch of Commonwealth Avenue, between Euclid Avenue and State Street.
Jay Detrick, transportation planner for the city of Bristol, Virginia, said about 15,500 cars drive on Commonwealth Avenue each day between Cumberland and Goode streets, a stretch of blocks that includes Andy’s. That measurement was taken in October.
Those five stores on Commonwealth — the QuickStop Marathon gas station, George and Sid’s, the Scotchman Exxon station, Zoomerz and Andy’s — accounted for nearly a quarter of all lottery sales within Bristol city limits from January to October.
The five stores have something else in common: They’re all in one of Bristol’s lowest-earning areas. The median income of that area was $23,404, according to data compiled by city-data.com from 2000 to 2013. A few blocks to the east, beyond Piedmont Avenue, the median income was even lower: $16,715.
The weighted average poverty line for a family of four in 2015 was $24,257, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
DOLLARS AND CENTS
In the 2015 fiscal year, the Virginia Lottery brought in $1.84 billion, according to lottery officials. Of that money, $1.1 billion was paid to winners.
About 29 percent — $533 million — went to K-12 educational programs, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. That figure represents about 8 percent of Virginia’s entire education budget.
An additional $103.9 million went to retailers and $12.4 million in unclaimed prizes went to the Literary Fund, which finances school construction, renovation and teacher retirement funds.
To break that down more simply: On average, for every dollar a player in Virginia spends on lottery tickets, about 60 cents is contributed to prize payouts; 29 cents goes to public education; 6 cents goes to the lottery operating budget; and 5 cents goes to the retailer.
The money contributed to schools represents any earned profit.
When compared to other cities, towns and counties in Virginia, Bristol falls in the top 20 in terms of money spent per person in the town on the lottery.
After dividing the total lottery revenue of each town or county by its population, in order to see how much money per person was spent on lottery tickets, Bristol ranked No. 16 with about $441 dollars per person in Bristol spent on lottery tickets in 2015, according to a Herald Courier analysis.
Four other entities in the top 16 towns or counties fall near borders with another state, like Bristol does. Emporia, Danville, Mecklenburg County and Martinsville — ranked Nos. 2, 7, 10 and 12, respectively — all lie near the North Carolina border.
Coming in at No. 1 was Virginia Beach, where $2,642 dollars per person was spent on the lottery. Emporia was No. 2 with $1,653 spent per person.
Analyzing the towns and counties in this way — dividing the total amount spent by population — isn’t a perfect method. Not everyone can buy tickets; children, for example. And not everyone stays in their county or even their state to play the lottery, as the border towns potentially show.
Even so, this analysis provides a rough sketch of where lottery hot spots exist in the state.
IN GOOD COMPANY
In a backroom of Andy’s Market on a Friday in early November, Huynh sat with his friend, Terry Owens.
Owens usually stops by once or twice a day. The two “sit around and bull,” Owens said.
They’re good friends now, but at first, Owens was like many of the regulars who stop by Andy’s: a customer. He’d stop in each day to buy a few scratch tickets. The two would chat. One day, Huynh took Owens for a ride on his motorcycle.
Seven years later, Owens still goes to the store to buy scratch tickets, but he also goes to see his friend.
“He takes care of his customers,” Owens said.
“We pretty much know everyone by name,” Huynh said. “That’s why they keep coming back.”
Rhonda Smith was in Andy’s Market at the end of November, collecting used losing tickets that pile up around lottery machines. Each scratch ticket sold has a promotional extra chance code, which players can enter online for a chance to win some quick cash.
Smith, 47, has found success in entering other people’s extra chances. She said most people don’t bother checking the code. The Monday before Black Friday, Smith received three Visa gift cards, worth $75, $50 and $25 for her diligence.
“I have fun with it, if I have a little extra money,” Smith said of buying her own tickets.
As for Owens, he bought an Amazing 8’s scratch ticket that day. The ticket is divided into three sections, and in each one, players hope to scratch away the gray opaque covering to find matching numbers or symbols. You could win $10. You could win $150,000.
But, for Owens’ particular ticket: no dice.