Laporte's lakeside tavern is claiming bragging rights - "It pays to play at the Popple" - and for good reason.
For about six years, when the Powerball is in $70 million-plus territory, bartender Bruce Geckler "takes care of the bookwork," collecting $5 from patrons and heading over to Laporte Grocery to purchase lottery tickets.
The Sept. 26 drawing proved to be worth the effort.
Thirty-one area residents are splitting $200,000, one of the 155 tickets matching five of the six Powerball numbers. After taxes, they will take home $4,370.
"That's second prize, by one number," Craig Mackey said of the estimated $163 million jackpot.
But the owner of Laporte Grocery and Meat, where the tickets were purchased, was pleased with the windfall.
"It was great. Unbelievable," he said.
Per routine, Geckler bought the tickets for the Sept. 26 drawing and put them in the safe.
Sunday, he took them to the store. He'd noticed what he thought was a ticket with four matching numbers. But when Emily Kloehn scanned the ticket at the checkout - the second to the last - the machine printed out a message stating that a prize of at least $30,000 had been won. Five numbers matched.
They double-checked a lottery brochure. "That's when we knew we'd gone the whole nine yards," Geckler said of the $200,000 prize.
"He 'bout fell over," Mackey recalls of Geckler's reaction. "Bruce was shaking like a leaf. It was hilarious, just crazy."
"I thought we'd have to call the First Responders," Geckler joked of his reaction.
No one claimed the jackpot, but 15 other ticket holders matched five of the numbers. The Laporte contingent was the only Minnesota winner. The winning ticket numbers were 18, 20, 34, 36, 39 with 19 the Powerball. The Laporte ticket Powerball number was 37.
"It's the "talk of the town," Geckler said. "It's a nice little stimulus package, especially in this economy."
"I've heard people say now they can pay their gas bill," Mackey said of the winter ahead. "It's huge."
Meanwhile, Popple Bar owners Steve and Jean Makarrall plan to have T-shirts printed with the new motto, "It pays to play at the Popple."