“One owner put it to me this way: ‘A store without the lottery is like a bar without alcohol,'” photographer Edie Bresler said in an interview with Slate. She became interested in the lottery during the recession of 2008, after noticing tickets littered in her neighborhood. This led to her series, “We Have A Winner,” documenting the small businesses that sell winning lottery tickets.
These small businesses may be the only group, along with the government, that truly benefits from lottery sales. Selling lottery tickets can be a huge boon to these mom-and-pop shops; for a winning sale, they can get commissions that range from $5,000 to $500,000. (They make a small commission off non-winning ticket sales, too.) As a whole, the shops are better off than the lottery winners themselves, who often go bankrupt and face other horrendous scenarios. And then, of course, there are the millions of people who waste their money on what the government sells to them as a chance at escaping poverty.
Compared to the financial devastation and false hope the lottery propagates, Bresler’s photos of these business owners are downright heartwarming. Shop owners, too, are people who are trying to overcome difficult circumstances, often recent immigrants with few options for viable employment. Bresler told Slate she composes these cozy portraits by gaining the trust of her subjects slowly. When she is notified of a winner of more than $1 million, she travels to the town and hangs out for about a week, getting to know the people involved. In addition to a digital camera, Bresler brings her 4×5 to these encounters, which she says acts as a conversations starter with her subjects. “It’s incredibly valuable because I’m out there all day and I let them look and see how it works so by the time the light is right, they’re all rooting for me and they’re also all ignoring me,” Bresler told Slate.
Breslers work is on view right now at the Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography in La Verne, California, until December 12.