A long-awaited lottery number, whose failure to be drawn in nearly two years was blamed for suicides and other family tragedies, finally made its appearance in Venice in Italy's highly popular lotto game.
Frenzy over the number, 53, which was drawn in Venice's lottery Wednesday evening, had driven countless Italians to spend large sums on the biweekly lotteries, convinced, every time, the number would be picked out of the basket.
Venice is one of several cities which participate in the lotto, and while 53 had come up in other cities, it had not been picked in the lagoon city drawings since May 10, 2003. Confident it had to be picked, Italians since then had bet the equivalent of more than $5.6 billion Cdn.
Many desperate players lost all their savings by betting repeatedly on 53, Italian news reports said.
In January, a man from Signa, near Florence, shot his wife and son before killing himself after he had gone thousands of euros into debt to buy lottery tickets with that number, police said.
Earlier that month a woman who committed suicide in the Tuscan town Carrara left a note saying she had secretly spent all her family's savings betting on 53.
Recently, Italy's economy minister invited Italians to "use their brains" when playing lotto and mathematicians appeared on prime-time news shows to explain, under laws of probability, in any given drawing, all numbers had an equal chance of being plucked out.
Lotto, a version of which was first played in Genoa in the 16th century, lets players bet any amount of money on numbers from one to 90 in biweekly draws. Players who guess all five numbers in a draw win one million times their bet, those who guess a single number win a little over 10 times the bet.
Lotto here is steeped in tradition and belief. Hardcore players often consult complex statistical models or soothsayers and fortune-tellers.
The website of the state-owned company that runs the lottery offers a computerized version of an age-old Neapolitan system that gives winning numbers by interpreting dreams.
The wins from Wednesday's draw will cost the Italian state between the equivalent of $805 million to $966 million, the Italian news agency ANSA said.
How many Italians came out winners and how high the take was for any individual was not immediately announced.