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Good Samaritan Could Get Unclaimed Lotto Jackpot In Spain

Women in Barcelona check their numbers for Spain's Christmas lottery, named "El Gordo" (Fat One), in 2012.
Josep Lago
AFP/Getty Images
Women in Barcelona check their numbers for Spain's Christmas lottery, named "El Gordo" (Fat One), in 2012.

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 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.