There is a village nestled in the mountains of south central Italy that boasts some 30 recently-minted millionaires, thanks to a lottery jackpot. But this is no fairy tale.
To understand how this came about it is important to understand how much Italians love to play the lottery. The Italian lottery system is more complicated than those here in the U.S. Italians who play the SuperEnalotto must select six out of 90 numbers. There is also a lottery in which players must pick six numbers plus a city, such as Rome, Milan, Naples, etc. On the plus side, the payouts in Italy for fewer than 6 numbers are much more generous than what American lotteries allow, and the SuperEnalotto, while hard to win, pays one of the largest jackpots in the world.
Italians often play the same numbers year after year. The numbers may be based on the birthdays of their parents or children or on specific numbers heard or seen in dreams. Another way to select numbers is to consult La Smorfia Napoletana, which assigns numbers to different types of dreams; for example, a dream about a mother is 52, about blood is 18, about fear is 90, and so on.
There is something about gambling and games of chance that encourages people to think of ways to “beat the odds.” In the village I mentioned, the owner of a small shop that sold SuperEnalotto tickets came up with a “system” (also known as a “lottery syndicate”) of 180 six-number combinations, and up to 30 people could buy a share in the “system” for six euros each. The SuperEnalotto is drawn twice a week.
There was great interest among the villagers at first, but as the months passed the one-year mark with only meager results, fewer and fewer people wanted to throw 12 euros into the pool each week. Twelve euros per week was a significant amount to the trades people and factory workers who made up most of the clientele.
When the fateful day rolled around, the shop owner — who always bought two shares for himself — had expended great effort to sell the rest of the shares. One guy on whom he could always count decided to drop out after participating for 18 months. This forced the shop owner to buy the last two shares as well.
That evening, all six of the numbers drawn were within the system. Each of the winning shares was worth about 1.3 million euros. Just like that, the town gained almost 30 millionaires. Remember, the shop owner had four shares, so he alone won 5.2 million euros.
The improbable success story generated great local fanfare and nationwide publicity.
The man who had dropped out of the system was so incensed, he demanded payment from the winners. No one paid him any mind, and there was no legal action he could take. I hear he is still bitter about the experience.
The money was a mixed blessing for the winners. A few of them, who had worked hard all their lives, banked their prize for a comfortable retirement. Others bought nicer houses and cars for themselves and their children. One man who was already well-off partied away all of his winnings. Another man who had shared in the jackpot and worked in a bank was caught embezzling funds from the accounts of his fellow winners after he had gambled away his share of the winnings.
Saddest of all, an organized crime group from Naples barreled into town to extort payments from the winners. Although untold thousands of euros were paid, police were able to round up the ringleaders before any of the winners was injured or killed.