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Bodega owner: You gotta be in it to get a free statue

Brooklyn Daily
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Call him Lotto da Vinci.

Avenue U bodega owner Peter Wong has never bought a New York Lottery scratch-off ticket in his life — but he knows how to mold the cardboard cards into intricate birds, dragons, Ferris wheels, and F-16 fighter planes.

“He’s so talented,” said Maria De Palma, who gets her daily dose of Lotto action at Wong’s S&R Food Depot near E. 23rd Street every day — and has received the storekeeper’s scratch-off statues as gifts. “I haven’t won the Lotto yet — but these are worth a lot more than money to me!”

Wong, who opened his store 10 years ago after working as an auto mechanic, says he refuses to sell his pieces and would rather give them to his favorite customers.

“When you start doing it for money it becomes less creative,” said Wong, who only makes his sculptures out of winning tickets so the piece will be infused with good luck.

The Burma native says he’s received no artistic training — and started making the sculptures when business slowed during the recession.

“I started to get bored at work,” he said. “I didn’t want to fall asleep and I knew I had to do something. I had all these tickets lying around, so I decided to make use of them.”

Wong does take requests. The most popular among neighborhood youths are mini M-16 rifles, but he also gets plenty of people asking him for replicas of the Statue of Liberty and the Cyclone roller coaster. He’s about to start work on a replica of the Wonder Wheel, he says.

Albany made $3 billion from the sale of lottery scratch-off, Lotto, Mega Million, and Powerball tickets between 2010 and 2011. A spokeswoman from the New York Lottery said she had never heard of a storekeeper making anything out of lottery tickets other than a profit. People can do whatever they wanted with both the losing and cashed-in scratch-off tickets, the spokeswoman said.

Unlike his Lottery customers, Wong says he isn’t looking for a big financial windfall — yet he admits he’s after a different type of fortune.

“I just want one piece in a museum,” he said.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow his Tweets at @from_where_isit.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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