The Honesty Prize

Published: March 24, 2006 | 3841st good news item since 2003

Temptation is a powerful force, but honesty is even more powerful in some people. David Romero, a 34-year-old ONCE lottery ticket seller, is one of them. He had, in his hands, a ticket worth 35,000 euros, which its owner had cashed in by mistake for 60 euros, and he was determined to find her. He spent nine long days searching, and finally tracked down the rightful owner of the mistaken lottery ticket.

David had vaguely remembered the woman’s face: a dark complexion and grey hair. She was quite old, he remembered, and had been dressed in light brown clothes the morning of 24 February, when she cashed in an ONCE ticket at his sales point on calle Córdoba in Marbella. There were lots of other customers there at the time, and he had not paid much attention to her.

“See if I’ve won anything on this ticket,” she asked him. The number was 61,062, sold the previous day in a supermarket in San Pedro Alcántara. He glanced at the ticket and noticed she had won 60 euros on the three final numbers of her ticket. “That’s wonderful!” she said. “That will see me through to the end of the month.” María Reina, 75 years old, then bought another ticket and left.

No luck up to then

“I was going to Estepona that day, and was in a hurry. Then I saw David. I have never been lucky in the past with the lottery, but thought to myself: “Will this number be lucky? I was delighted with the 60 euros I had won, because I had only 20 left for the end of the month. The pension, you know, doesn’t go very far,” said María.

When he had finished dealing with his clients, David ran the winning numbers through his TPV machine, which is a type of accounting machine used by the ONCE lottery ticket sellers. “When I typed the number in, I saw that the prize was higher than the maximum amount the machine pays out, so I went to the bank to check,” says David. He checked the bank book showing the winning numbers and saw that the ticket was worth 35,000 euros, not the 60 he had paid out.

His first reaction was to sit back in his wheelchair and look around to see if the woman was still there. But there was no sign of her. “I remember thinking: ‘And now how am I going to find this woman?’ She was not a regular client of mine, and from that moment on, all I could think about was finding her. I simply had to find her, so that she could collect what was rightfully hers.”

First step in the search was to tell the area head of ONCE about it. He was advised to hold onto the ticket over the weekend and wait to see if she could be found. “I was terrified of losing it. I kept asking my wife if it was still where we had put it away in the house.”

On the Tuesday, David was waiting at the doors of the main ONCE office to hand in the ticket, as soon as it opened. He decided to look for the woman himself, and spent the following nine days searching the streets. He spoke to other clients who had bought tickets from him at about the same time, asking if they knew her, but nobody could remember having seen her.

David then remembered having been to the bank that day, and that the woman had been there too. He wondered if she were a customer of that branch. “I asked in the bank, and they told me she was a client and gave me a number to contact her. She turned out to be 75-year-old María Reina, from San Pedro.”

The joy of winning

“My niece called me on the phone to tell me I had won. She asked if I was sitting down, and then told me the ticket I had bought on Calle Córdoba had won 35,000 euros,” says María. Then the bank called her. “María, go to bar Ramírez. They’re waiting for you there.” She did that, not knowing what to expect. “I was nervous about meeting David. I start crying and hugging him when I saw him. He is a beautiful person,” says María.

David recognised her as soon as he saw her, although he had to ask a few questions to be certain. As it turned out, she could even remember the winning number, so there was now no doubt about it. She was the winner he had been looking for.

Last Friday María received her prize money of 35,000 euros from the ONCE director in Marbella, Pedro Juárez. She plans to use the money to have some work done on her house. She is also anxious to buy a nice gift for David, as a way of thanking him for his efforts on her behalf. David is happy too, because has won a new client.

What they said

David Romero

Once lottery seller

“When I saw what the ticket was worth, I knew I had to find the woman who had won it”

“I didn’t know anything about her. I searched for nine days until I remembered her speaking to the bank clerk”

“It never occurred to me, or to my wife, to keep the money. She knew I was obsessed with finding María”

maría reina

the client

“I was in a hurry that day, and remember thinking to myself about the chance of winning something”

“I was very happy with the original 60 euros, because I had run out of money for the end of the month”

“I was nervous about meeting David. I started crying and hugged him. He is a great person”

United by destiny

David spent his 15th birthday in the Paraplegic Centre in Toledo. Some months before that, he had had an accident in a lorry. “I was not driving the lorry, of course. I was only the driver’s mate. I had gone to take the place of a friend who had gone hunting for the day, and had not even expected to be paid for the day,” he tells us. The lorry turned over and he was left paralysed for life. The driver of the lorry broke two ribs.

This Malaga man, a native of the Ronda town of Serrato, has spent the past 20 years in a wheelchair. In all that time he has done various courses, including computer technology, and has been selling ONCE tickets for the past two years. “I’ve lived in Malaga, in Mijas, and now I’m in San Pedro Alcántara. I sell in the streets,” he says.

Ticket number 61,062 has linked the lives of the disabled lottery ticket seller, David Romero, and widow María Reina, a 75-year-old San Pedro woman with four children, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild. The prize money, amounting to 35,000 euros, will allow her to carry out restructuring work on the house she bought in 1962.

Published in Honesty
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