HOULTON, Wis. -- The cash register is humming at the gas station Mac Qasem manages in Houlton, Wis. and he has squabbling Democrats and Republicans from Minnesota to thank for it.
"You know how much people, they just want to buy lottery," he smiles.
Since the Minnesota state shutdown began, lottery sales at Qasem's store are five times normal. "You just cross the bridge, couple of blocks and you're here," he points out. "The Minnesota state lottery is shut down, so they come here looking for luck."
Andrew Bohage, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Lottery, says Qasem's 400 percent sales hike does not appear to be uncommon. "We've been hearing some pretty eye popping statistics like that. And really we're hearing them all across the board."
Bohage says similar reports are coming in from Hudson, Prescott and Fountain City. The Wisconsin Lottery is currently surveying its retail outlets in border towns and hopes to have hard numbers on the sales increases within a couple of days.
Bohage says he's sorry it has to come at Minnesota's expense, but "we always welcome the chance to raise some more revenue for our lottery's mission which is to offset property taxes here in Wisconsin."
The situation is not so lucky at Lucky's gas station on the opposite side of the river in Stillwater.
"Can't cash 'em, can't sell 'em, can't sell scratch-offs - nothing," says Alan Cassady from behind the counter. An idle lottery machine sits nearby. "I can't even sign on," he says.
On the 11th day of the shutdown he say he still had to turn customers away who came into his store expecting to buy lottery tickets. "They say they need a Powerball so they're going over to Wisconsin.
Minnesotan Gary Wichelmann is among those now buying his lottery tickets at Qasem's store. "For the time being I'll just come across here so it's no problem for me," he said as picked up his tickets.
The store has also seen a big uptick in its sales of groceries thanks to Minnesotans who stop for lottery tickets and then pick up a few other items.
Minnesota's lottery is losing an average of $1.25 million each day the state remains shut down. Bad as that may be for the state's finances, Dale McDonnell, the lottery's assistant director, said his larger concern "is our 140 employees not receiving paychecks."
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)