Tuscan Gambling - The State Lottery
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
AT four o'clock of every Saturday afternoon a sight may be seen in eight important Italian cities, which has no counterpart in any of the cities of England. This is the public drawing of the Regio Lotto, or State Lottery. The Lotto plays an important part in Italy. It is important to the State, which derives a net revenue of never less than £1,000,000 sterling from it, and it is important to a people born gamblers, as are all imaginative races, who, with this safety-valve of mild authorised gambling always at hand, are, on the whole, restrained from worse excesses.
The Regio Lotto, though simple in itself, is not easy of explanation, nor are the dry bones of its system susceptible of literary vivification. Let our glance at the system, therefore, be very brief. In eight cities—to wit, Bari in Apulia, Florence, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Rome, Turin, and Venice, five numbers are drawn out of the numbers r to 90 inclusive, at four o'clock of every Saturday. The drawing is done in this wise, leastways at Florence, where I saw it. A commission, consisting of the Prefect of the Province, the Mayor of the city (or more usually their duly authorised representatives), and the local Director of the Lotto, take their places in a large open loggia fronting a piazza accessible to the public. There the numbers are publicly placed, one by one, in a revolving wire-receptacle, shaped like a huge pumpkin. The numbers are mounted on cloth, divided so as to fold into a small space. Each number is first held up to the crowd below by an attendant, it is then folded by the Director of the Lotto and handed to the Prefect's representative, who places it in a hollow metal ball which shuts with a spring. He hands each ball to a boy who places it in the pumpkin-shaped receptacle. This boy is the instrument chosen by Dame Fortune to draw the numbers, and he is an object of veneration with the crowd. He comes from some orphan-age, and is a new boy every week. He is dressed in white to symbolise his own innocence and the guilelessness of the proceedings in which he is engaged. The law allots him a fee of twenty lire for his services, but that, of course, goes to his orphanage. After each series of ten numbers has been placed in the wire-receptacle, it is locked and revolved several times so as to mix up the numbers thoroughly.
When the whole ninety numbers have been put in, the orphan boy is blindfolded, his sleeve is rolled up, he dives his arm into the slender aperture of the receptacle, and produces one of the metal balls. This is solemnly opened by the Prefect or his representative, the number is called out and held up to the crowd, and is then posted up at the back of the loggia after the manner of figures on a scoring-board. The remaining four numbers are drawn in the same way, and posted up in the order in which they are drawn. Then the small crowd melts away, usually with a look of disappointment on all faces, the Prefect's and the Mayor's representative receive the fee of twenty lire accorded them by law, the orphan boy is paid for the benefit of his orphanage, and the Director bustles off to telegraph the result of his drawing to the seven other drawing centres. By eight in the evening all Italy knows through the evening papers how it stands in the eight extractions. To prevent any possibility of mistake each number is repeated three times in the telegram, first in figures, then in writing, and then by code-word; thus: 79, seventy-nine, Siena (code-word for seventy-nine). If the three do not perfectly agree the receiving office requests the message to be repeated. On Saturday after five the printing-presses of the eight drawing centres are busy printing the results of the eight drawings which they have learned by telegram, and by Sunday morning all the Lotto offices in the kingdom are placarded with printed notices of the results. The following, as a specimen, was the drawing for Saturday the 18th November 1899:-
Bari 12 42 73 53 67
Florence 69 80 82 63 33
Milan 54 78 43 3 64
Naples 79 68 23 55 65
Palermo 74 32 90 3 7
Rome 39 19 51 38 89
Turin 14 89 88 37 55
Venice 43 87 8i 49 89
And now as to the manner of winning—and losing. In every Italian town of importance there are a number of Lotto offices, where during the week a brisk business is done in the sale of tickets for the Saturday's drawing. The game may be played in a variety of complicated forms. We will only consider a few of the simpler. As has been said, five numbers out of numbers 1 to 90 are drawn. If any of the numbers selected by the player appear among the five the amounts paid are as follows: if it has been wagered (as it were) that one particular number will be among the five and it appears, the amount paid is 10 1/2 times the stake (estratto semplice); if that a certain number will occupy a definite position in the drawing, e.g. that 89 will come out second of the five (estratto determinato), the amount paid is 52i times the stake; if that any two numbers will be among the five (ambo), 250 times the stake; if that three numbers will be among the five (tern)), 4250 times the stake; if that four numbers (quaterno), 6o,000 times the stake. The ambo is the favourite game. About 54 per cent. of the play is on the ambo, 40 per cent. on the terno, only 4 per cent. on the quaterno (a very off chance indeed), about xi per cent. on the estratto determinato, and 1 per cent. on the estratto semplice, the winnings on the two latter not 'being sufficiently tempting.
The system, however, at once becomes more complicated when the above-described straight-forward play (giuoco secco) is abandoned. For instance, three numbers are selected by the player, 23, 47, 69; he takes a ticket for three lire distributed as follows: one lira on the ambo or that two out of the three numbers will be among the five, and two lire on the terno or that all three will turn up. He no longer receives 250 times the stake if he wins the ambo, because he is using three numbers instead of two, and his chances are three times as great, for there are three combinations of two in three numbers. He will only be paid 83.33 times his stake. And supposing all three numbers to have been drawn, he would receive not only 4250 times his stake for the terno secco, but also three times the ambo for the three combinations of two. In the above case where three lire have been staked, the winnings would be lire 8500 on the terno, and lire 249.99 on the ambo, a total of say lire 8750.
To take another and still more complicated example. A player puts three lire on five numbers, say 8, 27, 44, 89, 90, placing one lira on ambo, one on terno, and one on quaterno. If two numbers come out he receives only one-tenth of lire 250, for there are ten combinations of two in five numbers. If three numbers come out he only receives one-tenth of lire 4250, for there are also ten combinations of three in five numbers. If four numbers come out he only receives one-fifth of lire 60,000, for there are five combinations of four in five numbers. Now, supposing four of the above numbers to have been drawn, the winnings would be as follows:
Quaterno = One-fifth of lire 60,000, lire 12,000
4 times the terno of lire 425 for the four combinations of 3 in four numbers. 1,700 times the ambo of lire 25 for the six combinations of 2 in four numbers 150 Total winnings lire 13,850
Theoretically a player may put on as many numbers as he likes, but the more numbers he plays the less are his winnings, as will be seen from the above example. If he were to put a lira on 12 numbers, his winnings would only be: on the ambo lire 3.79, on the terno lire 19.32, on the yuaterno lire 121.21. When we reach thirty numbers there is a positive loss on the ambo, and the winnings on the terno have dwindled down to a solitary soldo on every lira. People seldom go beyond twelve numbers, and by far the more usual game is to play three, dividing the stakes between ambo and terno.
The Regio Lotto in its relations with the people is not worked directly by the State. The Lotto offices are farmed out to private individuals known as Ricevitori. There are about 1700 Ricevitori in the kingdom. The Ricevitore provides his own office (Banco di Lotto) and his own staff of clerks, and retains a percentage of his takings calculated on a sliding-scale which allows him 10 1/2 per cent., if his weekly takings have not exceeded lire 200, and 3i per cent. on takings of lire 5800 and upwards. Midway in the scale is 7 per cent. on lire 1200. The Ricevitore is provided with Register Books of tickets by the Government. The tickets are ten in number, of the values of I2C., 16c., 20C., 30C., 50C., lire I,2,3,5, 10, and I00.
At the cessation of play, which in most towns takes place on Friday night, the Ricevitore has to send the counterfoils of the tickets issued to the head office of the district (compartimento) in which his office is situated. Thus Syracuse would send to Palermo, Barletta to Bari, Caserta to Naples, Lucca to Florence, &c. If for any reason, say by reason of a railway accident or a faulty postal de-livery, the counterfoils have not reached the head office in time to be deposited in the safes before the drawing, all winnings on such tickets are can-celled, and the value of the tickets is returned to the players. Of course such an event rarely occurs, but I have known it happen more than once, when rough weather has prevented the Elba packet from sailing for the mainland. There is much soreness of heart when winning numbers are among those thus cancelled, but the only certain loser is the Ricevitore, who finds himself minus a week's commission on takings. At the eight head-centres play is continued in the Lotto offices until two o'clock on Saturday afternoon, when the counterfoils are surrendered to the local Director. Arrangements have been made in some of the larger towns (e.g. Ancona, Bologna, Leghorn) for an " °Archivio " under the control of the local Intendant of Finances. Here counterfoils can be deposited as at the head offices, and play continued till two in the afternoon of Saturday. These extra hours make the greatest possible difference to the takings. For instance the Bologna Archivio was only started at the beginning of the financial year for 1898. In the previous year the takings at Bologna were lire 1,711,965,
in 1898 lire 1,914,673, showing a gross increase in receipts of over lire 202,000, caused solely by the Lotto offices of the town being open about 300 hours longer in the course of the year.
Seeing that the Ricevitore has surrendered his counterfoils at a certain hour, it might be thought that play would then cease altogether. But such is not the case. The Italian imagination is sufficiently fertile, and it has hit upon a plan of continuing play up to the hour of drawing and even somewhat beyond it. The Ricevitore, before parting with his Registers, takes a number of tickets at his own risk, filling them up with numbers of his own choice. These he continues to sell after the hour that play has officially ceased, and such tickets, which are known as "storni," enjoy great popularity. It is seldom that a Ricevitore has any storni left on his hands by the time the news of the drawing reaches a city. If he has, the loss is his own; or the gain, should he be fortunate enough to hold any storm with winning numbers. I once heard of a Ricevitore who was grumbling that his storni were going off very badly that day; the tickets left on his hands brought him in over £1000 in winnings.
The odds are very heavily against winning in the Regio Lotto. There are 4005 combinations of 2 in 90 numbers, 117,480 combinations of 3, and no less than 2,555,190 combinations of 4, and yet with these heavy odds against the player, only 250 times the stake is returned for ambo, 4250 for the terno, and 60,000 for the quaterno. To show how slender are the chances of winning, it is sufficient to reflect that it is just as likely that Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 should be the five numbers drawn, as any other series of five. Yet how seldom do we see even three consecutive numbers in the same extraction. In the year 1897 there were 53 drawings at the eight Ruote, and there-fore 424 extractions altogether (8 x 53), yet in all, put together, three consecutive numbers only appeared four times. On the other hand, two consecutive numbers are of singular frequency, no less than 71 cases having occurred in 1897. Fortune does indeed play strange freaks with the numbers. An analysis which I have made of some of the drawings of 1897, shows that at Florence the numbers 10, 16, 47, were not drawn once, that 14 numbers were drawn only once, 24 numbers twice, 19 three times, 12 four times, 10 five times, 8 six times, and not one seven times. At Rome in the same period every number had its turn, 14 numbers being drawn only once, 21 twice, 25 three times, 19 four times, 8 five times, and 3 six times. It should be borne in mind that in 53 drawings only 265 (53 X 5) numbers are drawn at each centre, leaving barely three turns to each if all the ninety numbers were to have a turn. At Naples the number 79 was once 31 years without showing itself. The present writer has, as a matter of curiosity, looked out each week for the numbers 47, 56, 89, for the last four years. They have never appeared at any of the eight Ruote as a terno, and only twice as an ambo. Nay, an Italian acquaintance of his declares that he has made a similar experiment with three numbers for the last thirty years, and that no two of them even have turned up together in that long period.
As has been indicated, Italy is divided into eight districts called comparlimenli, for the purposes of the Lotto. Not that this prevents a person living in one compartimento from playing on the drawing in another. A Ricevilore in any town can issue tickets for any of the extractions. Indeed, a favourite game is to in-crease the chances eightfold by playing the same numbers on all the eight extractions (tutte le Rude). One lira placed on three numbers secco on all the eight drawings would fetch, if they turned up at one place, lire 531.25, and one lira on the ambo secco, lire 31.25. The compartimento of Naples is facile princes in the amount it contributes to the State coffers through the Lotto, as the following figures show:
Compartimento. Takings in 1898 Lire Population of Compartimento
Naples 18,244,375 3,854,530
The devotion to the Lotto in the South is intense. The strictly meridional compartimenti of Bari, Palermo, and Naples contribute nearly one-half of the takings from the Lotto, and if the quasi-meridional compartimento of Rome be added to their number, South is 6,000,000 lire ahead of North. Looking at the receipts from the point of view of the modern provinces, the province of Naples contributes lire 11.09 a head per annum, the province of Leghorn is a bad second with lire 7.80, and the province of Rome a poor third with lire 4.98. Of other important provinces Venice is fourth with lire 4.71, Palermo fifth with lire 4.39, Genoa sixth with lire 4.17, Florence tenth with lire 2.96, Milan twelfth with lire 2.78, Turin fourteenth with lire 2.52, Bologna twentieth with lire 1.59, Lucca twenty-seventh with lire 1.25, Siena thirty-fourth with lire 1.07, Perugia fifty-seventh with 65c., and the little province of Sondrio sixty-seventh and last with 19c. Note that Sardinia (composed of two provinces) possesses no Lotto offices. There is no great liking for the Lotto in the island; besides, the distance at which it is situated from the mainland would considerably shorten the time of play, owing to the regulation requiring all counterfoils to be deposited at a head office before the drawing. The Sardinians who play do their business by correspondence, chiefly with the Ricevitori of Leghorn. A certain amount of business with foreign countries also seems to be done, and I know of Ricevitori who have even English correspondents.
Who that has lived any length of time in Italy can resist play? It is in the atmosphere. The stranger seems out of harmony with his surroundings unless he indulges in a little play himself, and takes a proper interest in his neighbour's play. The present writer is fain to confess that after some years of churlish resistance he ended by capitulating, and has seldom missed a week since the spring of 1896 without putting a trifle on the Lotto. During that time he has won lire 440 divided among four ambi, and is thought to have had exceptional good fortune. The process of choosing three numbers is full of interest and excitement, and leads to the retailing of many a thrilling anecdote and the recounting of much domestic detail. We are none of us so cold-blooded as calmly to choose any the first three numbers of the ninety that occur to us, nor are many of us sufficiently scientific to care a jot about the theory of probabilities. No; we play on dreams and events. For every single thing of any importance in this world has its number, and what that number is may be learned, with a variety of other interesting cabalistic matter, from one of the many dream-books which enjoy so extensive a circulation in the peninsula. " Il Vero Libro dei Sogni" is a great favourite in Tuscany.'
The lower classes—and especially the servant class—play on dreams rather than events. The cook dreams that she was chased over a bridge by a bear. In the morning she, after consultation with many friends in the market-place, decides that the three salient features of her dream were the bridge, the bear, and her own abject terror. The poulterer say, for she probably does not read, turns up the Libro de' Sogni for her, in the presence of an interested audience. Bridge is found to be 6, bear 55, and her own abject terror 90. Here are three numbers clear enough, but we are only at the beginning of the discussion. Bear is 55, but white bear is i, black bear i8, a dancing bear 6, an infuriated bear 18. The cook thinks the bear of her dream was brown, but that he may have had some black and some white about him, also that he may have been dancing when she came up with him, and that he did not seem very infuriated. Excitement among the knot of onlookers grows apace. If you play 55 and 18 comes out you will be sorry for it, my dear," says the poulterer in warning tones. Then bridge pure and simple is 6, but iron bridge is 16, wooden bridge is 46, draw-bridge is 80, railway-bridge is 7. Drawbridge and railway-bridge are dismissed, but as the cook thinks the bridge of her dream was built partly of iron and partly of wood, with some stonework about it, the loud-voiced quarrelling stage is soon reached by her excited friends. The only point that admits of no dispute is 90 for her own abject terror.
This little example is sufficient to show that the due selection of three numbers is no common matter, but needs much anxious deliberation. In the writer's dream-book there are, besides dog pure and simple, thirty-six kinds of dog to dream about: mad dogs, biting dogs, spotted dogs, lost dogs, and so forth. Besides cat, horse, ass, man, woman, pure and simple, there are twenty-eight kinds of cat, thirty-nine kinds of horse, sixteen kinds of ass, twenty-three kinds of man, and (Heaven help us!) one hundred and thirty-seven kinds of woman! So large a part does woman play in our dreams in Tuscany! Pretty well every eventuality is provided for, from a dream about a woman at her toilet-table, to a dream about two women who are scratching each other's faces. It is always difficult to remember the connotations of a dream figure, and doubly so when extreme precision is required of us. The only absolutely certain method in the popular estimation (ah! how it is prayed for!) is to dream of three numbers, either that some one uttered them, or, better still, that they were written up on a wall. A policeman in Sicily not long ago woke up his wife in the night, telling her he had dreamed of four numbers, and asking her to help him to remember them in the morning. He played his four numbers, and won a sum that enabled him to retire from the force. The story went the round of the Italian papers lately, and I believe it to be true.
As with dreams so also with events: three numbers are not arrived at without much searching of heart, and still more talk. King Umberto and Queen Margherita come to Turin to unveil a statue to Victor Emmanuel. There is 79 for King, 73 for Queen, 60 for Umberto, 20 for Margherita, 23 for Vittorio, 45 for Emanuele, 19 for Torino, 55 for statue, 8 for the day of the month. Which are the three salient numbers here? And what agony if any of the rejected numbers should come out, bringing with them wealth long dreamt of!
At Jubilee time in June 1897, English residents in Italy affected the Queen's numbers. The drawing at Florence for Saturday 19th June in that year was 33, 18, 73, 60, 77. One Englishman played Victoria (60), Queen (73), and Empress (41), and won two hundred lire on the ambo. It is somewhat of a curious coincidence that 60 should stand for Victoria and for Throne, and should also have been the number of years the Queen had been on the Throne. Eighteen, the age at which she came to the Throne (60) is another Royal number, and 77 was but one point removed from her age in 1897.
It would be easily possible to fill a volume with stories about the Regio Lotto: this chapter, however, has no other scope than a brief explanation of its system and working. But two more stories—they are so thoroughly Italian, too—and I have done. A certain Government official was imprisoned and arraigned for an embezzlement of 10,000 lire of the public funds. Before the Examining Magistrate he did not reveal the trump card which he thought would secure his acquittal. But in open court his advocate triumphantly produced 10,000 lire worth of unsuccessful Lotto tickets. " See!" he cried, " if my client has taken from the State with one hand, he has restored to it with the other every centesimo which he is accused of having misappropriated!" The ingenious plea did not, however, avail to save the culprit from a term of imprisonment.
My second story is even better, and will serve to show how thoroughly every class of society is permeated by the notion of the Lotto. On the 2nd April 1900, Zanardelli, in an eloquent speech in the Chamber of Deputies, quoted with some emphasis Articles 3, 6, and 82 of the fundamental constitution of the realm. A derisive voice from the "Centre" shouted "three good numbers for the Lotto! " and the idea at once caught on. All the Deputies played these numbers, and the story having got abroad, the populace of Rome followed their example. It is said that altogether 40,000 lire were played that week on these three numbers. Not one of them came out, and the wags of the Chamber were saying the next day that the Minister of Finance was wanting in manners and gratitude for not having sent his card to Zanardelli to thank him for this precious addition to the Exchequer!