Cleaner Julia Tong's fight to claim back her lost 4-D tickets was a hot topic among the heartlanders this past week.
The 4-D and Toto lotteries have always been a part of the heartlander's life. And punters love a good story of lucky strikes.
Last Saturday, Madam Tong, 50, had misplaced five 4-D tickets to three winning numbers, which would have bagged her $5,445.
But despite that bad luck, she still managed to win $5,000 because she bought another 4-D ticket after she couldn't find the ones she had dropped, and struck second prize.
According to Singapore Pools, the odds of winning 4-D are:
■ 1 in 435 of winning any prize.
■ 1 in 10,000 of winning first prize.
■ 1 in 100,000,000 of a number hitting first and second prizes in the same draw.
As for the original lost tickets, Madam Zeng Yanqiu, 47, a hotel housekeeper, found them on the ground near Block 109, Tampines St 11, and handed them over to the police.
Much of the chatter on the ground revolves around Madam Tong's luck and whether Madam Zeng did the right thing.
Cabby Loh Kum Weng, 60, who was seen queuing to place his bets for this weekend, summed it up: "She (Madam Tong) is very 'heng' (lucky in Hokkien). Not everyone is like that woman (Madam Zeng) - so honest especially after she finds out that the tickets are worth more than $5,000.
"I read in your news report that some of the woman's friends have called her stupid for being so honest, and I must say, I think the same, too."
A punter behind Mr Loh, who wants to be known only as Mr Mark, offers a different view. The part-time factory worker, 48, says: "It's inauspicious to steal someone's good luck. If you take what is not yours, you will be very 'suay' (unlucky)."
Several others who have been eavesdropping jump into this conversation.
Housewife Tan Lee Hua, 55, is more interested in Madam Tong's "lucky numbers".
She says: "I have been buying 4-D since I was a young girl and till today, I have not won the first prize."
The thrice-weekly lotteries are, erm, a big draw and are something to look forward to, say heartlanders.
A $1 bet on "big" could win you $2,000 if the number wins first prize. A bet on "small" could net you $1,000.
It's become a sort of communal glue. No matter what creed or colour, everyone becomes friendly while chatting and bemoaning their 4-D fortunes.
"Haiyah! Missed by one digit!" is a statement that would get sympathetic murmurs from everyone, even if you're talking to a total stranger or someone whom you'd not meet again.
Of course, there are many who would go their whole lives without understanding how to place a bet (which involves shading digits on the betting slip) and who don't understand the draw.
But for many, it is hope personified by a piece of paper.
Shopkeeper Lim Tianli, 65, places bets on a regular set of 30 numbers every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. She has won mostly starter and consolation prizes, she says.
"But there will always be a chance to strike first, second or third prize," she says.
"Who knows, Lady Luck may favour me this weekend?"
This Heartland Aunty counts the three 4-D draw days as her favourite days of the week. And for a minute or two after 7pm on these days, 23 sets of four digits get undivided attention.
Of course, there are cautionary tales that we should not ignore.
I know of someone who has won two big prizes - with total winnings of $220,000 - and many smaller bets in a span of four years, but lost all of that - and more - in an even shorter time.
And there are people who punt beyond their means on 4-D.
Take the advice of 77-year-old Ho Bee Ling, or Ah Ma, as she is fondly known to most residents in Marine Parade.
She says: "Don't bet blindly and without limit. If you keep missing numbers, it means you better stop betting."
National Problem Gambling Hotline: 1800-666-8668
THK Problem Gambling Recovery Centre Hotline: 6576-0840
This article was published on April 20 in The New Paper.
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