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Lost Fortunes

Claim:   An inadequately safeguarded winning lottery ticket is lost, either through being treated carelessly or by being passed around in a bar.

LEGEND

Examples:

[Brunvand, 1986]

A man is sitting in a bar with his friends. He is a recent winner of the lottery, a big prize winner as a matter of fact — in the thousands of dollars. He passes his winning ticket around the room to show it off to everyone, but when it is returned to him, it is a different ticket.
 

[Collected via e-mail, February 2006]

I have become a city bus rider in Austin, Texas. A new (to me) urban myth I hear among other riders, especially when someone wins the lottery big, is that someone they talked to on the bus, or that someone else told them about, knows about someone who had a winning lottery ticket, but somehow forgot or was careless and left the ticket in the seat beside them. When they realized what had happened, they found the same bus and checked, but someone else had picked up the ticket (and presumably cashed it in). Sometimes the story is about the person who found the ticket; he/she cashed it, because there was no way to determine who its rightful owner was.
 

Origins:   Legends of this nature attempt to impart the need to safeguard one's treasures; neither to leave them carelessly strewn about, nor to entrust them to the presumed inherent goodness of others. In both tales, winning lottery tickets that weren't adequately secured are lost, one through carelessness, the other through unnecessary bravado.

The first example, while collected in 1985 and published in 1986, was said by the one who provided it to have been encountered in "either 1973 or 1974." Another of folklorist's Jan Brunvand's readers said he heard virtually the same story in 1969, except it was a winning horse racing ticket that went astray. In this, these stories mirror a version of the urban legend about a marijuana joint handed about a classroom by a police officer; though in the mainstream telling of that tale, not
one, but three spliffs are returned to the dazed cop (thereby demonstrating that the school kids being lectured are far more worldly than formerly presumed), a less common variant has an ordinary cigarette making the return, the doobie having disappeared into the pocket of one of the students whose hands it had been supposed to pass through.

Lore aside, actual thefts of winning tickets have occurred. In 1997, a restaurant owner in Virginia pled guilty to having pilfered a $6.8 million winner from one of his customers. Robert Bernard, the man the ticket was taken from, always played the same numbers in the Virginia Lottery. Yet when he checked his tickets for the 8 May 1997 drawing with Jaspaul Narang, the owner of the restaurant where he'd bought his tickets, he was told he'd won a free ticket, and so handed over his multi-million dollar winner without complaint. He afterwards saw a sign posted at that place of business announcing that a winning Lotto ticket had been sold there. The sign also included the winning combination, which were the very numbers Bernard always played, thus tipping Bernard to his having been had. Meanwhile, Narang had claimed he'd found the ticket on the floor of his establishment, a discovery that made it his.

Once the dust settled, the win was properly awarded to the man who'd played the winning combination.

While it's still not a good idea to pass around winning lotto tickets in a bar, one way buyers of lottery tickets can protect themselves is to immediately sign their tickets.

Barbara "stop sign" Mikkelson

Last updated:   20 June 2011

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Sources:

    Bradley, Paul.   "Lottery Sales Agent Pleads Guilty to Theft."
    The Richmond Times Dispatch.   16 August 1997   (p. B4).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Mexican Pet.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.   ISBN 0-393-30542-2   (p. 142).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (pp. 19-21).

    Ellis, William and Alan E. Mays.   "Lottery Losers and Cement Mixers."
    FOAFTale News.   September 1989   (p. 6).