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4:20 pm
Wed September 18, 2013

Good Samaritan Could Get Unclaimed Lotto Jackpot In Spain

Originally published on Fri September 20, 2013 5:10 am

A city in northwest Spain issued a rather unusual lost-and-found notice this week:

FOUND: A lottery ticket bought more than a year ago, which entitles the owner to an unclaimed $6.3 million jackpot.

LOST: The ticket's owner.

From its El Gordo ("The Fat One") Christmas lottery, to the summertime EuroMillions drawing, Spain is a country obsessed with playing the lottery — especially in a dismal economy.

With unemployment above 27 percent, many Spaniards figure their chance of getting rich by working and saving is the same as winning the jackpot. So why not buy a ticket?

Spanish lotteries often have hundreds or thousands of winners who split the prize. And it's virtually unheard of that someone might buy a lottery ticket in Spain and then not check to see if he or she won. But that's exactly what appears to have happened with one winner in the northwest Spanish city of La Coruña.

In June 2012, someone bought a ticket at a kiosk there. A few days later, the numbers on that ticket — 10, 17, 24, 37, 40 and 43 — won $6.3 million. But the jackpot went unclaimed. A few weeks later, the ticket mysteriously turned up on the counter of another lottery kiosk in the same city.

Manuel Reija, the cashier, assumed it fell out of someone's wallet. He ran it through his machine that checks for winning numbers — and almost fell over.

"I couldn't believe it the first time I checked the ticket! So I ran it through the machine again just in case there was a computer error," he told reporters recently. "I was standing up, but I had to sit down. I almost broke the chair, I was so flustered!"

Spanish media have dubbed Reija a good Samaritan. He turned the ticket in, rather than claiming the jackpot himself.

"It would have burned a hole in my pocket," Reija said. "It wouldn't have been right [to claim someone else's prize]."

For more than a year, the regional Spanish lottery administration waited for someone to come forward. But now the city of La Coruña has launched a very public search for the ticket's rightful owner.

"We're searching for a millionaire, not to ask for money, but to give it away," Mayor Carlos Negreira told NPR in a telephone interview. "So that's a little strange, especially these days, with the bad economy."

Six people have already come forward to try to claim the ticket, Negreira said, but none could prove ownership, by providing details of exactly when and where the ticket was sold. Officials are keeping that information a secret.

Many locals believe the ticket's owner is most likely a regular lottery player from La Coruña who visits lots of different kiosks. He or she bought the ticket at one location, but possibly dropped it by mistake at another one. Or it could even be a foreign tourist who's long gone from Spain. La Coruña is a port city and draws thousands of tourists to nearby beaches in summertime.

By law, if the real owner isn't found within two years, the $6.3 million jackpot will go to the cashier, Manuel Reija, who found the unclaimed ticket. If that happens, the mayor says he'll buy the man a beer.

"He found something that wasn't his, and did the right thing to try to find who it belongs to," Negreira said. "He's a good example for our citizens who believe in justice."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The JPMorgan Chase office in London was not lucky with its trades. Somebody in Spain though, was very lucky with the lottery last year. And that somebody remains a mystery.

Lauren Frayer reports on the drama of a lost and found lottery ticket with a $6 million jackpot.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in foreign language)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: From the Christmas lottery in which orphan children sing the winning numbers, to El Gordo's summertime sister jackpot, Spain is a country obsessed with playing the lottery.

It's virtually unheard of here that someone would buy a lottery ticket and not tune in to hear if they won.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Spanish spoken)

FRAYER: But that's exactly what appears to have happened with one winner. And it's got this country wondering: who among us, in this dismal economy, is a millionaire but doesn't know it?

The story begins more than a year ago, when a winning lottery ticket was sold in La Coruna, in northwest Spain. A few weeks later, that same ticket turned up on the counter of another lottery kiosk in the same city.

The cashier, Manuel Reija, assumed it fell out of someone's wallet. He ran it through his machine that checks for winning numbers - and was stunned.

MANUEL REIJA: (Through Translator) I couldn't believe it the first time I checked the ticket. So I ran it through the machine again, just in case there was a computer error. I was standing up but I had to sit down. I almost broke the chair I was so flustered.

FRAYER: Spanish media have dubbed him a Good Samaritan. He turned the ticket in, rather than claiming the jackpot himself.

REIJA: (Through Translator) It would have burned a hole in my pocket. It wouldn't have been right. It just wouldn't have been right.

FRAYER: For a year, the lottery administration waited for someone to come forward. Now the city has launched a very public search. Carlos Negreira is La Coruna's mayor.

MAYOR CARLOS NEGREIRA: (Through Translator) We're searching for a millionaire - not to ask for money, but to give it away. So that's a little strange, especially these days with the bad economy.

FRAYER: Negreira says six people have already come forward to try to claim the ticket, but couldn't prove it - by providing details of where and when it was sold. The ticket owner is likely to be a regular lottery player who visited a lot of different kiosks. It could even be a foreign tourist who's long gone from Spain.

By law, if the real owner isn't found within two years, the $6.3 million jackpot will go to Manuel Reija, the cashier who found the unclaimed ticket, says the mayor.

NEGREIRA: (Through Translator) He found something that wasn't his, and did the right thing to try to find who it belongs to. He's a good example for our citizens who believe in justice.

FRAYER: For that, the mayor says, he'll buy the man a beer.

For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.