Banking on the unluck of the Irish

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I have my own particular system for playing the lottery - and it pays off every time.

What's my secret? Every Wednesday and Saturday, the two days on which the winning numbers are drawn here in Ireland, I walk right past my local lottery outlet and pocket the nearly five euros it would take to play a basic combo ticket. Over the past 10 years I reckon I've "won" more than five thousand euros as a result of my strategic penny-pinching.

I like to call my approach the "anti-lottery."

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Here are the ground rules: If you play the lottery regularly each week, using a predetermined set of numbers, those lines are no doubt committed to memory. Your "lucky" numbers might signify important birthdates or anniversaries, and you're probably able to recite them without a moment's hesitation, like a child savant asked to unravel a difficult mathematical puzzle.

That was me, when I first moved to Ireland. Twice a week I played two lines of numbers that even now I can recite like my own name. These days I no longer play, but still - twice a week - I match those numbers against the winning lines generated by the National Lottery here. Then I breathe a massive sigh of relief when - invariably - my numbers don't come up.

The thrill is the same as if I'd actually played (only in reverse, of course), but the odds are considerably greater in my favor.

If you think this system is ludicrous, consider the alternative. Lotteries everywhere play on the common fantasy of a single enormous payday that will ease all of life's problems. Here in Ireland, the allure of such a scheme is even more compelling. All lottery winnings are awarded in one tax-free lump-sum payout. If you win the weekly minimum of 1.3 million euros, for instance, that's exactly what you get, no strings attached, no taxman tailing you for his cut of the action.

Of course, there are strings attached to every lottery win. And the strings get more intricate and more constricting in direct proportion to the size of your windfall.

Consider the case of Dolores McNamara, the Limerick woman who last summer scooped a Euromillions jackpot of 115 million euros, or roughly $140 million. The director of the Irish Lottery claims it was the largest prize ever, anywhere in the world, since it was awarded in a single tax-free payout.

Ms. McNamara comes from a modest enough background, judging from press reports, and her immediate response was to take herself and a planeload of her family and friends off to Spain for a holiday.

But now, six months after her record win, just try to imagine the seismic effect that kind of instant inconceivable wealth must be having on her day-to-day life. McNamara, to her credit, has insisted on remaining in her working-class Limerick neighborhood. But to make that possible, a state-of-the-art security system had to be installed around her house. Also, one of her nephews had to flee the city because rumors spread that he might be kidnapped by local criminal gangs intent on securing a sizable ransom.

Indeed, this lottery story is the stuff of fiction. Or rather, as I suggested before, it has all the makings of an outlandish and grotesque fantasy, one in which an individual human life is stretched and distorted to such an extent that it bears no resemblance to the humbler lives that surround it.

Now, having said all that, it would be hard to refuse a bit of good fortune should it come my way - a windfall of a few thousand euros would suit me just fine. In other words, a tidy enough sum so that I might get maybe a year ahead of myself, in financial terms, while at the same time remaining tethered to the mundane demands of ordinary life.

Still, for the moment, I'll continue with the system that has served me so reliably in recent times, slipping past my lottery dealer each week with the quiet assurance of a man who knows he's backing a winner.

Steve Coronella is a freelance writer.

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