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YORK COUNTY LOTTERY SALES UP

Christina Love unwrinkled a worn $10 bill Friday afternoon to pay for gas at the H&H Mart in Rock Hill. Then, she reached in her pocket and pulled out a couple bucks for scratch-off lottery tickets.

"And gimme two Lucky 7s," Love snapped, handing the cash to the clerk for a pair of scratch-off lottery tickets.

"I never win nothin'. But hey, I need the extra cash," she said, before scooping up her young daughter and dashing back to the car before a thunderstorm let loose.

Despite rising gas prices, food costs and unemployment, York County shoppers such as Love have spent $1.4 million more on lottery games this spring than they did in 2007, according to the S.C. Education Lottery. That's a 5.4 percent increase in lottery ticket sales through the end of May.

The increase bucks a longtime trend. Normally, when gas prices go up, lotto sales go down as convenience store shoppers drain their pocketbooks at the pump, lottery officials say. That leaves little left over for games of chance.

But this year, despite all-time record high gas prices, South Carolina's lottery sales are up $15.7 million -- about 3.7 percent.

Lottery spokeswoman Stephanie Hemminghaus attributes the revenue growth to the value of a dollar. She said when customers are pouring up to $100 into a gas tank, a leftover single is easier to spend and carries with it the allure of winning a jackpot.

"A $1 investment could win you millions," she said. "A dollar doesn't really buy you much in these hard economic times, but it will get you a Powerball ticket and the chance to win more money."

Victor Boulware, whose Borderline Mini Mart in Clover is consistently top-10 in the state for lotto sales, said his lottery revenue is up 20 percent to 30 percent over last year. He believes customers strapped with rising costs are getting desperate for cash.

"People are takin' that chance, trying to get out of the hole in one shot," Boulware said. "The economy probably has a lot to do with it."

Last year, lottery revenues decreased for the first time since the lottery's birth in 2002. The decline can be attributed to customers being siphoned away by North Carolina, which launched its own lottery in late 2006.

"Sales are finally starting to come back," Boulware said, noting many out-of-state patrons near the state line are choosing South Carolina games because they claim playing in both states offers a better chance to win big.

But not all retailers are convinced the slow economy is boosting sales.

"With gas prices, some people don't have the cash to play," said Huy Pham, whose family owns a convenience store near downtown Rock Hill. "For us, the economy hasn't really helped."

But after checking sales figures, Pham admitted lotto sales are up slightly.

"I don't know. Maybe people are trying harder to win," he suggests. "If it was me, I'd keep my money. Spend it on gas."

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