There is a popular lottery here called TRIS. It is one of the many national lotteries one can play here. Some here have played and hit big - they are now rich!
Miguel normally plays 3 and 4 number sequences. Like most people here, he has his set of numbers that he plays; most people we know who play also play the same numbers. And because they've all been playing the same numbers for a long time, they remember each others' numbers.
It's common to get into a taxi with Miguel and quickly the conversation turns to how they are doing with TRIS. Did you play? When did your numbers hit? How long since you last won? etc, etc. There is always a bit of fudging on how much and when, because the last thing anyone wants is to give the impression they actually have some cash - they don't want 'friends' coming out of the woodwork asking for a 'donation' (that will never be repaid). So a big hit is kept quiet until time passes and the money is long gone.
Our taxi driver in Cancun, Luis, plays 4 pesos on just one or two numbers. Miguel knows Luis' numbers, and when he opens the paper and sees the results, he'll comment that Luis won the TRIS. When Luis took me to the airport last week I asked if he had played his numbers the day that they hit, and no - he had not. So he missed out on whatever the payout would have been on 3 numbers played with 4 pesos (probably about $100). He wasn't happy.
On Tuesday Luis drove me around Cancun to run some errands, and he told me that on Sunday he'd been mandated to pay his taxi papers. But with very few customers and other financial obligations (he has a daughter who requires expensive medication and other treatments for a blood disorder), he didn't have the money. He prayed, and on Monday, he hit the TRIS. Since he only plays 4 pesos, it wasn't much, but it was enough to pay for his taxi papers and keep his taxi on the road for a little while longer. He was so happy (and relieved).
Miguel is a dedicated player, he rarely misses going to play his numbers. The only thing that ever stops him is his 'escapee' - his fiesta days where he chooses to drink with his buddies and misses the TRIS. I keep waiting for him to miss a big one because he chose a fiesta instead, but Miguel carries an angel on his shoulder and he always gets away with it.
Over the last month Miguel has had an extraordinary stroke of luck with the TRIS - he has hit 6 or 7 times, and that money was most welcome as it went right into the construction of the Luna Studio he's building over Capi's Apartment. As an example, on a 10 peso ticket on a 4-number sequence, the payout is 50000 pesos (just under $5000).
It is very hard to hit 4 numbers. It's also hard to hit 3 numbers. But Miguel has hit both. When we go to eat at La Bruja, the owner (Roberto), always talks "TRIS" with Miguel. La Bruja has not hit TRIS in 2 years - the last one allowed him to put in a new floor and pay for a party for his daughter's 15th birthday party (quincinera).
Over the last month La Bruja has had to listen to Miguel's tales of success, and with each time he has hit, La Bruja's face has become increasingly frustrated that he has not been able to win. The guys pull out their tickets (yes, they save them for a few days as a reference), and go over the numbers and discuss when was the last time that one hit, or that one. "Chinga", more than two years! It's due!
When we went last week he greeted Miguel with "don't tell me, you hit again?" - I think he meant it as a joke, never thinking that yes, actually Miguel HAD hit again. The look on his face was priceless - disbelieving in the good luck of his customer. And frustration that it wasn't his turn. He walked away dejected, shaking his head.
On Monday we went there to eat, and La Bruja was almost in tears as he showed Miguel the results of the TRIS from the night before. His number, that he'd been waiting to hit for 2 years, finally hit. But...he'd been so busy working that he hadn't had time to go and buy his ticket. He lost 10,000 pesos (close to $1000). He was so sad, and we were sad for him - the one night he didn't go, he missed out. Who knows how long he'll have to wait again for that number? (because the guys never change their numbers - even if they have just hit, they keep playing them). There is a lot of superstition about changing your numbers.
We went there to eat again yesterday, and we hadn't even parked when La Bruja, who'd been sitting on a chair inside the restaurant, popped up out of his chair and stood in the doorway with his hands on his hips. He pointed accusingly at Miguel and said "You won again!!".
I thought he was just asking, but no, he was telling Miguel that his numbers had hit (like I said, they all know what they each play, so they know when one of them has won). Thus ensued long discussion where Miguel said that he had not won, those numbers posted were a mistake. La Bruja insisted it was not a mistake, and was so convincing that Miguel began to believe that his numbers had hit on Monday afternoon and for some reason, he didn't know. He kept telling La Bruja that he checks his numbers on the internet, on the tv, and in the papers, and at the lottery booth, and that his number had not hit. But there was doubt (and hope).
So we came home and Miguel went through all his tickets, and last night checked them out at the lottery booth. No, he had not won again, La Bruja had been looking at old results and that was his winning number from the week before. We were disappointed, but it's hard to be really disappointed, because the odds have been heavily in Miguel's favor, he has had more than his share of good luck and our friends, who desperately need the money too, have not had the same luck.
And me - I've won once in 4 years. $250. Winning TRIS isn't my thing, I guess. As Miguel says, he has luck with numbers, and I am lucky in other ways.
Times here are tough. Tougher than most tourists would know. Many people here are just waiting for their numbers to hit, to give them a bit of relief. It's the luck of the draw, but I hope someone somewhere causes the numbers to hit for those who need it most. It's the best hope for many.