At every lottery in the world, there's a person who calls winners to inform them their lives have changed. In Australia, one of those guys is Matt Hart. He works at Australia's largest lottery operator, The Lott, and every day, Matt makes very weird and often emotional phone calls.
Over the course of his career, Matt estimates he has called over 400 people, each one with their own unique story and reaction. We spoke with Matt to hear about what that's like, and what he's learned about luck.
Question: Hey Matt, how does it feel giving away money?
Matt Hart: You feel like a cross between the Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny when delivering the prize money. When you think about it, it's quite surreal that we just interrupt someone's life, every morning, to deliver the news that they've won a top prize and they're now a millionaire or multi-millionaire. We have this little insight into their lives — it's a real emotional thing for many people, we hear about their hopes and dreams of what they'd always thought they'd do with a million-dollar win.
What's the best winner's story you've ever heard?
Last year, I had a call that really made me realize what a difference money can make. I once told a woman she'd just won a million dollars and she started crying — but it was a deep cry. It wasn't the usual happy tears. And in the course of the conversation, she explained that she was dying of terminal cancer. So her tears were this sort of huge relief and happiness because it meant that her husband could stop work for a bit and they could spend time together, tick everything off their bucket list that they could, while they had time together. It was one of the most emotional phone calls I've had because you could tell from her reaction that it meant so much to her. Even thinking about her now, it really makes me emotional.
What's the most excited reaction you've had?
Often there are private syndicates, a group of friends, or workmates who have gone in together. It's always nice that they're sharing that win and experience together. There was a bunch of friends in South Australia, young guys, and they were just absolutely going off. Basically, yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs and jumping up and down. I think anyone nearby would have heard them.
Have you ever had to convince winners that you actually work for the lottery?
Yeah, it happens often. It probably has to do with two things: People believe that it'll never happen to them, or they say I've never won anything in their lives, so they can't believe they've won the lottery. My very first call was a guy in Sydney, he thought it was a prank call and said, "If you call me again I'll call the police!" and he hung up on me. We eventually united him with his money and he was really apologetic. A lot of people won't believe it until they see the money in their account.
Do people just blow it all?
One of the common misconceptions is that people just blow it all in a short space of time. When we've followed up with people, years down the road, they've usually used it wisely. It's almost this fear of not spending it wisely spurs them to make good decisions and make sure it will benefit them for a long time. We had one lady who won and she was going to get a new car door, but not a new car. She said, "My car's fine, I just need a new door."
What are some of the more interesting ways you've people spend winnings?
We've had a lot of quirky winners. We had one guy who wanted to go become a Buddhist monk. Another winner bought a rhinestone dog collar for her dog because she purchased her winning entry while buying dog food so believed her dog helped her win. I asked another winner what they were going to do with their win, and he said, "Oh, I'm going to the dentist." Or my favorite was a Darwin man who said, "I'm going to go get a haircut." It seemed so trivial and it was clearly on their mind but they didn't quite have the resources to do it beforehand.
Do you ever get numb to the emotion of the job?
No, never. There's something really special about it. On Monday morning, you can never think, oh its back to work. It's hard to have Mondayitis when you're giving away a couple of million dollars. And because you're dealing with people, it does keep things fresh because you never know who's going to answer.
How many winners do you think you've called and how much lotto money have you given away?
I'd estimate eight to ten a week. That's mostly people who have won $10,000 — through to the biggest prize I've given away which was $50 million.
Do you tell people at dinner parties what you do for work?
Yes. I usually go straight to the top and say I call lotto winners. People are always keen to make sure I have their phone number just in case I need to call them. People are really interested in the lottery in lots of ways that aren't about winning. They're fascinated by the balls, the draw machine, and how it works. People are ultimately interested in the lottery because we all like to dream of what we would do if money was no object.
Has this job effected how you see luck or the way you value money?
I don't believe in luck. It's a game of chance so it could happen or could not happen. If you want to take part in the game you just need an entry. At times, it makes me feel a bit blasé about numbers. Like oh, right I'm giving away $600,000. But then I think that's actually a lot of money. Because we're dealing with such a spectrum of prizes you forget the true value of it.