It was midafternoon at the Heritage Restaurant, and the tables were cluttered with coffee cups, iced tea glasses and Kansas Lottery tickets: $2 Bonus Crossword tickets, $5 five-spot Keno tickets, $20 Instant Jackpot tickets.
The regulars all know that this is the top Kansas Lottery outlet in the state. And most say they know why.
"It has a nice, homey atmosphere; people are friendly," Marty Eaton said.
"And the food's good," said her tablemate, Nancy Gay. "You can play while you eat."
Wichita sells more lottery tickets than anyplace else in the state with 12 locations selling more than $500,000 worth of tickets last year.
No place sells more than the Heritage Restaurant.
And while lottery officials say location is a big factor in determining which outlets lead the state in lottery sales, they say that stores that promote the game have the best success.
Last year in Kansas, 2,038 outlets sold lottery tickets. The $2.5 million in sales recorded at the Heritage Restaurant at 4551 S. Broadway more than doubled the $1.1 million sold by the runner-up — a Prime Time Stores outlet at 100 N. Broadway in Salina.
Rounding out the top five were the Express Lane at 138 W. Pancake Blvd. in Liberal, the Stop-N-Save at 1621 S. Main in Ottawa, and the Jiffy Mart at 600 W. Main in Independence.
Ed Van Petten, executive director of the Kansas Lottery, said the Heritage was consistently a leader in sales because it takes an active interest in the game.
"They generate excitement in the lottery, and they promote it," he said. "They carry every game we have. They actually draw clientele in just to play the lottery."
Revenue down in '09
Although lottery sales were brisk last year at the Heritage, that wasn't the case with every Kansas Lottery outlet.
Sales were down 2.6 percent in fiscal 2009, which ended June 30.
Lottery officials hope a new promotion — a $1 million raffle — that will launch in mid-October will help reverse the trend. They say the game will offer the best odds ever of winning $1 million.
Van Petten said the recession was partly to blame for the recent drop in sales.
"I do believe the economy had an effect on sales, but I think the biggest reason was that our jackpot games didn't perform as well as they normally do," he said.
Van Petten said that when jackpots in the Powerball or Super Kansas Cash games approach record levels, sales skyrocket.
He said a similar drop in Keno sales last year may have been the result of new smoking laws that forced some businesses to go smoke-free. Some stores that usually do thousands of dollars in Keno sales saw sharp declines when they were forced to ban smoking, he said.
Although sales for the year were off 2.6 percent, the $237 million taken in by the Lottery marked the second-best year in its 22-year history. The record of $240 million was set the year before.
Of the 2009 total, $70 million went to the state. By law, the first $50 million of the state's cut is distributed by a formula that sent $42.4 million to an economic development fund, $2.5 million to a juvenile detention facilities fund and $5 million to a correctional institutions building fund.
Everything over $50 million goes into the state general fund, Van Petten said. Last year, the transfer was $20 million.
Just as the Heritage Restaurant has been the Lottery's dominant retail outlet, instant games have been its dominant source of income, generating more than half of all 2009 sales.
Van Petten said the instant game tickets are printed in Michigan, Florida and Georgia by companies that supply other state lotteries.
While many of the games are similar, he said, "Each state puts its own slant on it."
In Kansas, he said, the slant often carries a crossword puzzle theme. Those are the most popular scratch-off tickets, he said.
"The $2 game is by far and away the most popular," he said.
The Lottery's second-most popular game is Powerball, a multistate game that offers multimillion-dollar jackpots. Powerball ticket sales accounted for barely 1 percent of total sales last year at the Heritage Restaurant.
Powerball sales were dominated by QuikTrip stores. The top 22 Powerball outlets, in fact, were QuikTrips.
Two Wichita stores — at 1500 S. Maize Road and 1620 S. Webb Road — were tops in the state last year. Each sold nearly $200,000 worth of Powerball tickets.
The new lottery promotion, the Holiday Millionaire Raffle, will launch this fall and offer players a one-in-150,000 chance of winning $1 million.
On Oct. 18, 150,000 of the $20 raffle tickets will go on sale, and a Dec. 31 drawing will determine which ticket takes the top prize. Five players will win $50,000 and 500 will win $500.
Wichita was the biggest consumer of lottery products last year, as Wichita retailers did $44.7 million in lottery business.
That's about a fifth of the state total and more than 2 1/2 times the revenue generated by Topeka, the runner-up in sales. Salina, Kansas City, Overland Park and Hutchinson rounded out the top six cities in net lottery sales.
On a per-capita basis, the Butler County town of Cassoday sold more lottery products than any other city in the Wichita metro area. It's probably no coincidence because Cassoday, which did $849 worth of lottery business for each of its 128 residents, is just off the Kansas Turnpike.
Van Petten said several of the state's best-performing outlets are on the Turnpike or near interstate highways.
The Gove County town of Quinter and the Russell County town of Bunker Hill each did more than $800 worth of lottery business per resident. Both towns are on I-70.
Stores receive a 5 percent commission on all lottery sales. They also receive a 1 or 2 percent cashing commission — depending on the game — for handling payouts of less than $600 to winners. Larger payouts are handled by Lottery offices in Topeka and Great Bend.
Back at the Heritage
At the Heritage Restaurant last week, Greg and Cheri Hare were dividing their time between Keno and scratch-off games.
"We know everybody, and everybody knows us," Greg Hare said. "It's kind of gotten to be a little family thing, really."
The Hares, both aircraft workers, said they often visit casinos in Oklahoma and often play the Kansas Lottery in other outlets in Wichita.
"This is by far and away the busiest," Greg Hare said of the Heritage. "It's busy 24-7."
He said the couple visits the Heritage "probably every day."
"The kids are grown, and this is what we do," he said. "It's our pastime."
At the next table over, Charles Dedman was finishing his ham and beans with an eye on the Keno monitor on the wall. He said his biggest Lottery prize — $16,000 — explains why he plays the game.
"I play to win," he said. "I don't know why everybody else plays, but I play to win."