Lottery luck run dry? Sales halted at small store with huge winnings

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Panhandle Package, in tiny Campbellton, is among the winningest lottery sales locations in the state.

JOHN HENDERSON News Herald Reporter @PCNHJohn

CAMPBELLTON — Just a few blocks from the Florida-Alabama state line is an unassuming store that offers liquor, snacks, novelties — and a huge number of winning Florida Lottery tickets.

Panhandle Package, at 5837 and 5839 U.S. 231 in Campbellton, operates in a town with just over 200 residents but is among the winningest lottery sales locations in the state, exceeding the numbers of many stores in major metropolitan areas.

The two stores, housed in the same building with just a glass divider between, sold 126 winning Florida Lottery tickets worth $600 or more in fiscal 2016-17. The next closest was Rio Convenience in Jensen Beach, with 109 winning tickets.

Financially, the stores top the state as well, with Panhandle Package #1 alone coming in second statewide with total sales of $4,223,169 in the same time period. It was topped only by the State Line Gift Shop, in Bonifay, with $4,786,452 in sales. However, with Panhandle Package #2’s sales factored in, the Campbellton locations dominate with $6,610,052.

But Panhandle Package’s lottery ticket sales recently were halted by the state, leaving customers to scurry to other locations to buy tickets.

Panhandle Package cashier Josh Burdeshaw said he wasn’t sure of the reason why the sales were halted, but he’s been told they should resume in a week or two.

“My sister was working that day (sales stopped),” he said.

But Nidia Tew, a public affairs specialist for the Florida Lottery, said the shop was found in violation of its lottery contract with the state, and the “investigation is ongoing.” Tew could not comment about specifics of the violation or when the store might resume selling lotto tickets.

However, a recent $30 million winning ticket could be a clue. The ticket, cashed out for a $20,948,543.98 cash prize, was purchased by Aura Canto of Panama City, Panama, through online service The Lotter. Using The Lotter, whose motto is “Playing It Global,” players worldwide can purchase tickets from about 50 different lotteries, including the Florida Lottery. Employees of The Lotter purchase the tickets in person on the buyers’ behalf.

Lottery officials would not comment on the sale, though a representative did say internet sales are not allowed.

“The Florida Lottery does not sell tickets online,” deputy communications director Taylor Nash said. “Lottery tickets must be purchased through any of our more than 13,000 authorized retailers. We are aware of courier services, but we do not endorse them.”

In any case, the state’s action has taken a toll on Panhandle Package’s business.

On a recent morning, only a few cars were in the store’s parking lot, one of them driven by a woman who had come down from Alabama with numbers picked out to play the Florida Lotto, only to learn it wasn’t being sold there anymore.

She decided to drive a block north to Fortune Liquors, which has seen its business boom since Panhandle Package’s sales were stopped. At mid-morning, there were two lines of people waiting to buy tickets. A cashier said business has been non-stop, and the store has had to add more staff to keep up.

“No guts, no glory. Play big to win baby,” said customer Michael Rook, a Dothan, Ala., resident who walked out of the store with a handful of lottery tickets. He said he usually buys his tickets at Panhandle Package, as the store has been a lucky location for him, but decided to use Fortune Liquors instead to buy his tickets when sales stopped at his previous location.

“I won $1,500 on Monday here,” he said.

Rook is not alone. Just last month, a Fantasy Five ticket was claimed for $184,082. It joins 10 other Fantasy Five winners since the game’s inception in 2009, nine of which were sold to Alabama residents.

In fact, the store’s proximity to Alabama — which has no lottery sales — likely is one source of its success.

“A major contributing factor to this is the high volume of purchases made by Alabama residents crossing the state line to purchase Lottery products since Alabama does not have a lottery,” said Jennifer Fulkert, Florida Lottery administrative assistant.

Burdeshaw said many customers are from Alabama, but he said people driving back and forth from Bay and other Florida counties are also regular customers.

“We catch everybody going to Panama City people from Georgia and Dothan,” Burdeshaw said. “There’s a lot of folks who come in here traveling back and forth (between states). They may be traveling up north for family reasons. I see people from everywhere in here. We even have people even who come here from Graceville, and we have another store over there in Graceville for the convenience of being able to sit down and see how the numbers come out. It’s a good spot.”

Callaway Food Mart on Cherry Street in Bay County had the highest number of winning ticket claims in Bay County in 2016, with 139 claims.

Burdeshaw said he believes the reason Panhandle Package has had so many winners is simple: It sells so many tickets. He said the publicity over winning tickets also has helped boost sales.

“We’ve got Georgia people coming over here, and we’re just across the (state) line,” Burdeshaw said. “We’ve got Alabama people coming in here every day after work. It’s a busy store, and we have really cheap whiskey. You buy three gallons of anything and you get 10 percent off.”

When Panhandle Package’s sales will resume is unclear. Nash said after a location’s sales are terminated, the retailer can re-apply, with resumption of sales decided “on a case by case basis.”

“Approval depends on ownership of the business, financial responsibility, integrity, reputation, accessibility of the business to the public and security of the premises,” Nash said.

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