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Does Politeness Pay? Lottery Winners Think So

Remember this if you’re standing in line for your lottery ticket: should you take the place in line that God or Fate gave you? Or should you give away your spot to the guy behind you? Or buy two tickets, one for you and an extra one, just in case the happy-go-lucky guy behind you is the real winner? Or, on that basis, buy three tickets for the guy behind him? Or … four?

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This is not an April Fool. The winners of New York’s $319 million Mega Millions jackpot have finally gone public and reveal that the “lucky” man who bought the winning ticket in downtown Albany for his office lottery syndicate at the Division of Housing and Community Renewal lost his place in line when he got peckish, and reached out for a Snickers bar.

Mike Barth, who bought the winning ticket, told reporters, “So I reach over and I’m sort of pulling myself out of the line to get the candy bar and this guy jumps in front of me and I’m, like, maybe I should say something, that was pretty rude.” The feel-good moral of the story for the soundbite-hungry media? Rudeness doesn’t pay and chocolate is good for your bank balance.

It makes a heartwarming headline: “Nice Guy Doesn’t Come Last.” If only life were that simple. This reminded me of one of the biggest-ever EuroMillions lottery winners, Dolores McNamara, an Irishwoman whose story is the stuff of legend in Ireland. She lived in Limerick, best known to Americans as the blue-collar city from Frank McCourt’s grim coming-of-age memoir Angela’s Ashes.

McNamara’s €2 “quick-pick” random ticket won her €115,436,126 (around $164 million), a sum unheard of in Europe for a single lottery prize. It was at the time Europe’s largest individual lottery win. But in this case, McNamara won because she got chatting in her local shop to a neighbor, Larry Moriarty, and he allowed her to go first. Her “quick-pick” could have been his. This tabloid cruelly called it: “The Schmuck of the Irish.”

So politeness doesn’t pay, despite what news anchors may tell you. Unlike McNamara, Moriarty doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry in his honor, but he is known as a gentleman, said at the time that a nicer woman couldn’t have won and (publicly at least) maintained that he had no regrets, which is more than could be said for the line-jumper in Albany. Do you have a system for buying lottery tickets?


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About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.